Australia’s strategic policy after the northern tour

Prime Minister Tony Abbott in China

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Governing the Net: From Bondi to Copacabana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Central Africa: pushing UN peacekeeping to its limits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using Coles to make Defence more effective and efficient?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The threat that leaves something to chance

US Coast Guard vessels Cutters Adak and Monomoy.

Since 2009, China’s non-military maritime law authority vessels have engaged in low intensity coercive activities (PDF) designed to alter the status quo in China’s maritime periphery. Regional states have largely been at a loss as to how to deal with China’s growing maritime presence and, for its part, the US has been reluctant to physically insert itself into disputes for fear of militarising them unnecessarily. But there are signs of mounting frustration in Washington with the current state of affairs and America’s policy settings. And while analysts are right to point to the risks of escalation in any confrontation between the PLA and the US Navy, it’s increasingly clear that the US must do something, even if it means mirroring China’s own provocative practices.

In a recent Foreign Policy article Ely Ratner and Elbridge Colby argue that by foreshadowing the prospect of ‘penalties’ for coercive diplomacy in future, America can ‘inject a healthy degree of risk into Beijing’s calculus’, and discourage China’s destabilising behaviour. While Ratner and Colby aren’t forthcoming on what kinds of penalties the US should be willing to impose, it’s clear that directly threatening the use of superior force would be a risky option. China could quite easily ignore threats (whether implicit or explicit) and push the difficult choice of conceding or escalating back onto the US. China’s much heralded counter-intervention capabilities mean that America’s ability to impose substantial military penalties is heavily reliant on capabilities like stealth and long-range precision strike. Those capabilities are hard to leverage in threat-based contests because they are not visible until used against an adversary, in which case a conflict threshold has already been crossed. Rather, the US needs to find ways to contest China’s actions without unnecessarily escalating a crisis or making threats that can’t be honoured. Read more

A good place to start would be choosing the right tools. China has developed the practice of deploying maritime law enforcement ships and wielding the implicit threat of naval vessels over the horizon. The US should mirror this practice. Deploying US Coast Guard vessels to the region, and possibly even basing them in the Philippines—perhaps joint crewing them with Manila—would enable the US to exert greater low-level presence in the maritime commons. This would greatly complicate Beijing’s current strategy and might enable the US to force a stalemate in some circumstances. Besides this operational effect, a greater presence would send important signals of support and commitment to regional states. A strategy aimed at achieving the limited objective of effective contestation is more plausible than a strategy aimed at eliciting a Chinese back-down.

Now it is not immediately evident that Coast Guard operations would be sufficiently intimidating to alter Chinese behaviour. But even low-level operations like this take on a quality Thomas Schelling described as ‘the threat that leaves something to chance’—this is an action that deliberately exploits the risks and uncertainties that accompany even low-level military action. Putting Chinese and American forces alongside one another in an adversarial setting increases the risk that, through accident or false alarm, the situation escalates. That type of threat can be more effective than a clear and direct one because its credibility rests on a dynamic which is partly independent of deliberate retaliation. So let the Chinese leadership fret about a breakdown in their control over the PLAN, or weigh the consequences of accidents at sea. That would make the risks of China’s coercive diplomacy all the more vivid.

As well as risks there would also be costs involved in ‘effective contestation’—it might involve actions that dilute the increasingly thin premise of American neutrality in Asia’s territorial disputes. That, in turn, might renew Southeast Asian states’ concerns about polarisation. But while those costs might be substantial, the costs of not turning up accrue steadily. China’s actions are already undermining the security architecture that has arisen organically in East Asia over the past decades. Unilaterally altering the balance of ‘facts on the ground’ directly flouts the stipulations of ASEAN’s Declaration of Conduct, as well as UNCLOS. Over time that’ll foster a less cooperative and more competitive regional order.

Perhaps just as important from an American point of view, China’s ability to bully its treaty allies with impunity saps American prestige. Prestige can be described as a reputation for power. America’s unwillingness to dirty its hands in low-level maritime coercion increasingly looks like impotence, and reinforces a stubbornly persistent narrative of American ‘weakness’. If the US wants to shake off the visage of a fading leviathan it will have to commit to the relevant level of conflict. Doing this in an effective and non-escalatory manner may require sending in the Coast Guard.

Daniel Grant is an intern at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user US Coast Guard.

Portrait of a Minister: Julie Bishop’s economic diplomacy

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop holds a press conference at the APEC Summit on the afternoon of October 5, 2013, in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia.

One of the things that any new Minister for Foreign Affairs has to decide is where to focus his or her attention within an extensive portfolio. Foreign affairs spans a wide field including security, prosperity, international order and international aid.

Some past ministers have seemingly decided to cast themselves as ‘Minister for International Cooperation’, focusing their attention on the UN and multilateral institutions, while others have aligned closely with their defence counterpart, positioning themselves as ‘Minister for International Security’. In one case, Prime Minister Rudd acted like his own minister for foreign affairs, leaving the unlucky Stephen Smith as essentially ‘Minister for Whatever the Prime Minister Isn’t That Interested In’.

In Julie Bishop’s case, her first six months suggest that she’s focusing her energy as ‘Minister for Economic Diplomacy’, aligning her role closely with the efforts of the Minister for Trade and Investment and the government’s economic agenda. Read more

Analysing Bishop’s first six months through her published speeches43 in that period—gives a revealing insight into her key preoccupations. ‘Economic diplomacy’ is one of the most frequently-used phrases in her speeches and appears as a regular reference point. The Minister defines putting economic diplomacy first as utilising international assets to promote Australia’s economic prosperity. That includes focusing on economic reform and trade liberalisation, supporting open trade, pursuing an ambitious free trade agenda, supporting a vibrant business sector at home and abroad and working for closer ties to Asia.

While a concern for economics isn’t new—trade has always been a key concern for Australian foreign policy—the level of emphasis is distinctive. At a time when there are also a number of security issues in the region, it’s striking that most of the Minister’s discussion of Australia’s relationships in Asia is framed primarily in terms of trade.

Certainly, when telling the story of Australia’s relationships in the region—with Japan, China or Korea—trade comes first. In her speeches describing our relationships in Asia the Minister appears to sequence Australia’s three foreign policy priorities in this way: trade, then security cooperation, then working for a rules-based international order.

This could be part of a wider view on the relationship between economics and security. In other contexts, the Minister speaks about the role of greater economic prosperity not just as an end in itself but also as vital for regional as well as global peace and security.

The exception to this is the Minister’s speeches on the US: here it’s clear the security relationship comes first. The Minister has a keen understanding of the Australia–US alliance and considers it ‘the indispensable feature of Australia’s strategic and security arrangements’. She pays tribute to both countries’ shared history, restating the Coalition’s traditional position on ANZUS as the ‘central, vitally important truth which underpins Australia’s foreign policy’. This isn’t to say that there isn’t also a trade agenda—the Minister notes that the US-led Trans Pacific Partnership ‘has the potential to deliver a major boost to trade and investment in the region’—but it’s clearly subsidiary to the security alliance.

Of course the Minister does focus on security issues where relevant, for example in speeches on cyberspace or humanitarianism. And in speeches to the United Nations, security issues are clearly a focus as part of Australia’s term on the Security Council. Minister Bishop spent her first week in office on issues such as preventing sexual violence in conflict, the security situation in Yemen and chairing the UN Security Council’s session on small arms and light weapons. However, Minister Bishop’s speech to the General Assembly draws heavily on the role of economic development in contributing to security and outlines Australia’s role in advancing international trade liberalisation and economic growth as contributions to security.

A good example of the Minister’s priorities is her speech chairing the newly-renamed Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) at its meeting in Perth. The Minister expresses her wish for both stability and prosperity for the region; but beyond a brief mention of piracy and maritime security, she focuses on ways to cooperate for the ‘peaceful, sustainable use of this magnificent ocean‘ as set out in the Perth Principles. She notes her particular interest on issues of women’s economic empowerment and educational exchanges and outlines the Government’s New Colombo Plan to build educational and people-to-people links in the region.

Through these speeches a portrait emerges of a minister clearly focused on economic diplomacy as the enabler for strengthening international relationships and contributing to peace and security. From her first six months of speeches, we can expect a minister with a keen consideration of Australia’s economic interests and the focus and determination to pursue these. In other words, the Defence Minister need not be worried about his patch.

Melissa Conley Tyler is national executive director of the Australian Institute of International Affairs and Doris McDonald-Seaton is a research intern at the Australian Institute of International Affairs. Photo courtesy of DFAT.

Globalisation and war: examining the mechanism

The China Marine Surveillance cutter "Haijian 66" and the Japan Coast Guard cutter "Kiso" confront each other near the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Will trade and investment connections and the economic imperatives of both governments prevent conflict?

Charles Miller offers an excellent overview of the large-sample econometric debate among political scientists about whether globalisation can reduce the possibility of war. I’d like to build on his post by digging a little deeper into the theoretical debate and expanding on how policymakers should approach this question in the context of Asia.

A good place to start is to ask how globalisation—taking as Charles does, the proxy of trade—might prevent conflict.

Scholars such as Oneal and Russett (cited by Charles) who say that trade is a force for peace start from the observation that armed conflict inevitably reduces (if not stops) trade between the belligerents, and potentially their trade with third parties. That imposes high costs on domestic economic actors. Firms can’t export their goods, consumers can’t enjoy imports, jobs are lost and the economy suffers. The key pillar of the argument is that political leaders—the ones making decisions about whether to fight—are sensitive to those costs, and that will temper their belligerence. Read more

Those who disagree don’t dispute the economic costs of fighting, but argue that political leaders, and their constituents, don’t care about economic losses when their nation’s survival, territory or perhaps pride and honour are involved. Instead, publics ‘rally ‘round the flag’ and support their leaders when security is threatened. A similar argument can be made for the ineffectiveness of economic sanctions; countries will endure economic pain when the larger security or political goal is worthwhile.

Who’s right? Well, we must acknowledge that this simple theory obscures a great deal of real-world complexity. It might matter whether the government is an electoral democracy or a repressive autocracy, or what kind of trade is in danger of disruption, or whether alternatives to commerce with the ‘enemy’ state are available.  In essence, though, attempting to answer the big question about whether trade can prevent war between two states requires asking two more specific questions.

The first is a question of economics: how sensitive is the state’s economy to the disruption that war would cause to its international trade and commerce?

The second is a question of domestic politics: how much influence do economic interests have over policy? Asked another way, how do leaders balance the economic interests of their constituents against security concerns?

Let’s consider, for example, the region’s most concerning flashpoint, the dispute over maritime territory between China and Japan in the East China Sea. Richard Katz makes a persuasive argument that the economic links between the two countries are a formidable force for preventing conflict. On the economic question, he argues that the depth of Japanese-led investment and production in China is a critical input to China’s development model, especially through job-creation and tax revenue. Similarly, he argues that the Chinese market is equally vital for Japan’s export-dependent economy. On the political question, he argues that the political legitimacy of both governments is founded upon economic growth,regardless of whether those national leaders are democratically elected or not. In his view, the relationship between economic interdependence and political legitimacy is said to restrain both governments’ hawkishness.

While some might want to quibble with his answers, Katz at least answers exactly the right questions. It’s the questions themselves on which policymakers should focus, not just to predict whether globalisation or trade may inhibit conflict, but to understand the mechanism through which such inhibition occurs, so that policies can be targeted to nourish the process.

Countries like Australia with interests in avoiding regional war must look to identify the economic actors—companies, business organisations, unions, and even consumers—within a potentially belligerent country with the greatest stake in peace, and develop ways to multiply their number and increase their capacity to influence their government’s policy. When the next crisis erupts, they might offer the best chance at preventing aggression by their government.

It’s helpful to remember that trade was insufficient to prevent conflagration in Europe a century ago and useful to consider the important ‘data points’ from disputes unfurling right now.

There’s a lot still to be learned from down in the weeds of economic activity between countries and the domestic politics of these interdependent relationships. Focusing on those questions is our best hope to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.

Darren Lim is an Australian PhD student at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. His research analyses the microeconomic foundations and strategic consequences of economic interdependence, asking how countries in Asia resolve conflicts between their economic and security interests. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Canberra officer (3): the promised land of jointery

The Governor-General’s Banner is escorted by Australian Defence Force Academy midshipmen and officer cadets during the 2014 Chief of Defence Force Parade.

Tribalism isn’t the scourge it once was in the Australian military. Sure, they still have tribes, but they don’t go to war with each other as often. And the tribes have found better ways to intermingle and agree on a common cause.

Australia’s Army, Navy and Air Force had to stop fighting so they could prosper in the Canberra system. The need for less warring tribalism and more cooperation was one of the lasting lessons the services took from the Tange revolution.

The most recent column in this series looked at Defence creation stories, talking about the Old and New Testaments. Andrew Davies helped set that tone with this comment on what Tange did to the tribes:

When the three services were first thrust together by Tange, the effect was for them to war against each other and against the Forces of Darkness and Anarchy Tange set up to annoy them. It took about 20 years, but they eventually discovered if they intoned the word ‘joint’ (even if they didn’t believe it) they looked more like a bloc than three warring tribes. Over time, jointness has become a credo that has helped propel the CDF to the position you identify in the first column. A joint force to rule them all, C4ISR to find them; A joint force to bring them all together and in the darkness bind them.

Read more

Jointness has become a thing of beauty for the tribes, a mantra often intoned and a common totem of the tribes, always honoured in word and occasionally in deed.

Jointery has mattered greatly for the tribes from education to operational concepts; it has been vital in Canberra officer effort and in working the Canberra system; and jointery was the language used in the realignment of power between the Chief of the Defence Force and the service chiefs.

As a driver of operational concepts, jointery was a break with deep habits. One of the CDFs who helped impose and inspire jointery, Peter Gration, argued that the three services had far more history (and understanding) of operating with allies in coalitions than they did working with each other. Afghanistan and Iraq proved that bit of history is still strong.

Alliance and coalition tend to pull the services apart; jointery is now how they’re taught and structured. The three levels of officer education tell the story.

Pre-Tange, all officer training was conducted by single-service institutions. Direct-entry officer training and service-specific training is still provided by the individual services. But there’s now a tri-service institution at each level of officer education. And they’re all in Canberra.

The first is the Australian Defence Force Academy, which sits over the hill just behind Russell HQ, and provides entry level officer training.

The second is the Australian Command and Staff College, a few kilometres south down the valley at Weston, which prepares officers for command and staff jobs. The top layer of officer education, also at Weston, is the Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies. To produce the Canberra officer, the military educates officers in Canberra.

As one former service chief said to me recently when talking about the creation of the Canberra officer, the three tribes had agreed, ‘We’ve got to get smarter in how Canberra works’. Educating them in Canberra is a good start.

The most important physical expression of jointery is the headquarters of the joint operational command, HQJOC, which functions to plan, control and conduct military campaigns and operations.

The JOC broke free of the Canberra effect to the extent that it’s just outside the ACT, on the road to Bungendore, a gentle half hour drive from Russell. The HQ is named after General John Baker, which is a proper honour because Baker was a CDF who fought some of the sharpest battles with the service chief in the name of jointery and the power of the CDF. More on that in the next of this series.

The final point must be that tribalism still throbs, if at a lower level of intensity. As a measure of this, see the Defence Efficiency Review of 1997 (PDF), more than 20 years after the Tange revolution:

In virtually every area examined, those responsible have highlighted dysfunctional aspects of the higher level arrangements, which prevent them obtaining what to them are obvious improvements. The predominant concern expressed was the “tribalism” of the three Services and the Public Service in protecting their assets and influence. We were reminded of President Truman’s comment at the end of the Second World War. “…I have the feeling that if the Army and the Navy had fought our enemies as hard as they fought each other, the war would have ended much earlier”.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalism fellow. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

ASPI suggests

Commander Submarine Forces, US Pacific Fleet, Rear Admiral Phillip Sawyer. Image credit: Luke Wilson, ASPI

It was submarine-mania at ASPI this week with our international conference ‘The Submarine Choice’ held 9–10 April. And we’d like to extend a big thanks to all—speakers, sponsors, participants and venue staff—who made it a big success. Our speakers included the Minister for Defence Senator David Johnston (full speech here), Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Ray Griggs (full speech here), Commander US Pacific Fleet Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr (full speech here) and Commander Submarine Force US Pacific Fleet Rear Admiral Phillip G. Sawyer (pictured), who said:

Read more

One of the main headlines from the event was the Defence Minister’s announcement to re-examine the previous government’s plan to build 12 submarines. In this blog post, Andrew Davies and Mark Thomson argue there are reasons to think 12 still might be the number. Earlier in the week, ASPI Chairman Stephen Loosley argued that, with a more constrained defence budget, it was time for Australia to back away from the 12-submarine commitment, and that six would achieve our strategic objectives.

For other Strategist posts that break down the big issues from the conference, visit ‘The Submarine Choice’ section on the blog, and for updates and images from the event, see Twitter hashtag #SubCon14.

In Indonesia, it’s been a tougher ride than expected for presidential hopeful Joko Widodo’s political party, PDI-P, in this week’s legislative election. With only 19% of votes (they needed 20% of seats in the legislature or 25% of the popular votes to nominate a presidential candidate), the party might have to cut a deal with others to ensure a shot for Jokowi at the July election. Over at New Mandala’s Indonesia Votes section, Marcus Mietzner, Edward Aspinall, Wimar Witoelar and David Willis share their post-election analysis on PDI-P and the limited ‘Jokowi effect’.

Shifting to broader strategy-related items, this week’s podcasts are courtesy of the ANU. First, a recent public lecture by Professor Sir Hew Strachan in which he made the argument that an emphasis on national interests, defined in terms of geopolitics, can run counter to our ideological commitments. Second, a panel discussion featuring some of Australia and Asia’s leading scholars on whether East Asia risks being brought to the brink of war as Europe was in 1914.

Sticking with the Asia Pacific, Japan has pushed ahead with plans to stockpile plutonium, although not of a grade most desirable for bombs. The stockpile is being used for a nuclear recycling program designed to reuse plutonium as part of an overall plan to reduce Japan’s dependence on external energy sources. The Americans are reportedly unhappy with Tokyo’s stockpiling intentions, for fear of the material being stolen and used by terrorists. For more on the controversy around the plan and Japan’s history of nuclear energy, read this New York Times piece.

Moving to the Middle East, with Iran entering a third round of nuclear talks with world powers this week, CSIS has produced a 3-minute animated video explaining Iran’s missile capabilities, with analysis and narration by Anthony Cordesman.

Turning now to technology and conflict, there’s a new exhibit at the United Nations that simulates walking around landmines. It uses a low-energy Bluetooth technology to find a phone’s location and transmitters hidden throughout the exhibit. When a person comes too close to a transmitter, it acts as a landmine and detonates, filling the user’s headphones with a jarring, visceral explosion followed by an audio testimony of someone’s actual experience.

Lastly, if you’re in Perth, there’s a special art exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) ‘Out of the Shadows’ on display at the Western Australia Museum. ‘Out of the Shadows’ runs from Saturday 12 April to Sunday 1 June and offers a glimpse into the world of Australia’s special forces. For more details visit here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and editor of The Strategist. Image credit: Luke Wilson, ASPI.

Governing the Net: pivotal actors go to NETmundial

A word cloud formed from the key words used in content contributions for NETmundial 2014

The United States, China and Russia have so far been the key players in the Internet governance debate. As we showed last week, while the multi-stakeholder and statist schools of thought have shaped the discussion, neither has gained a decisive upper-hand. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the future of Internet governance won’t be decided by the stalwarts of those opposing sides, but by the actors who occupy the middle ground. With an international consensus unlikely, it’ll be the building of like-minded coalitions that shifts the balance towards either end of the Internet governance spectrum. This week, we look to NETmundial in Brazil as the next big Internet governance forum where the positions taken by pivotal actors may determine how the debate progresses, and how our day-to-day Internet experiences might change.

NETmundial’s origins are inextricably bound to Edward Snowden’s disclosure of America’s NSA surveillance activities. At the UN General Assembly in September 2013, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff spoke strongly against the US and called for the UN to become involved in Internet governance. Two weeks later, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé was in Brazil recognising that ‘trust in the global Internet has been punctured’, and that it was now ‘time to restore this trust through leadership and through institutions that can make that happen’. Rousseff accepted Chehadé’s invitation to host a global summit on multi-stakeholder Internet governance, and NETmundial was born. Brazil’s joy was short-lived; the US announcement that it was shifting the last of its internet management responsibilities to ICANN muted the significance of NETmundial and empowered ICANN as the premier forum for the debate. Nonetheless, NETmundial will be an important proving ground for ideas that’ll be taken to future ICANN meetings, so it’s useful to explore the positions of Brazil, India and the EU—all pivotal actors who can shape the debate. Read more

Brazil has been a peculiar actor in the debate so far. Historically, it has supported a more intergovernmental model of Internet governance, deferring to the UN and ITU as the decision-making bodies. So it was interesting that President Rousseff, while requesting UN intervention, also made clear overtures to multi-stakeholderism, calling for ‘open, multilateral and democratic governance, carried out with transparency by stimulating collective creativity and the participation of society, governments and the private sector’. Brazil will be riding into NETmundial on the back of its recent success pushing through the Marco Civil da Internet –a civil rights framework for Brazilian Internet users–and as more recently reported, its designs for global internet governance rules (to be released on 14 April). As a growing economic power and leader in the developing world, Brazil will do much to shape the future of the Internet governance debate.

India’s Internet governance debate, like Brazil’s, is in flux. For a time, India demonstrated that it was an inclusive, balanced actor committed to a free and open internet governed through multi-stakeholder processes. Then, in November 2013, they threw their support behind the multilateral Internet governance model after concerns about data storage and internet traffic management in a post-Snowden world. India highlighted its distaste for the multi-stakeholder process, characterising it as ‘something of a misnomer’ given US dominance in the system. The Indian government has since emerged as a reactionary in the Internet governance debate, attempting to elbow its way into a seat at the table. Itself a beneficiary of an open Internet, India should be encouraged to consider carefully the representations it’ll make at NETmundial as part of a long-term game, not a short-term one.

While the European community has been a strong proponent of an inclusive, bottom-up system, the US legacy role has remained a long-standing point of contention. After the Snowden revelations, European leaders lambasted the US and tabled policies that hinted at Internet Balkanisation, appeasing both sides of the debate, as well as domestic business interests. Fortunately America’s recent moves have largely placated its Europeanpartners. The European community is large and diverse, providing a solid foundation upon which to build a global consensus on Internet governance. But the transatlantic relationship brings its own baggage, limiting the North Atlantic’s potential to function as an incubator for internationally acceptable norms. Europe offers an important critical mass, but not one nearly large enough to solidify Internet governance norms and rules of the road.

The Snowden revelations caused Brazil, India, the EU and others to lose faith in America’s goodwill in the Net governance debate. It’s time to harness those pivotal actors into a coalition of likeminded states whose support can buttress multi-stakeholderism against further moves toward statist Internet governance. The time for talk is over: strong leadership is needed to ensure that the Internet governance debate is shepherded to a positive outcome firmly rooted in multi-stakeholderism. NETmundial holds the potential to drive the transformation of ICANN and boost moves to develop international norms on privacy and human rights online. Australia should not come empty handed to this critical forum, a topic we’ll delve into next week.

Klée Aiken is an analyst and David Lang is an intern in ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre. Image courtesy of NETmundial.


Two strategic competitions in Asia

Game of thrones?

The unfolding strategic environment in Asia is generating two strategic competitions: one horizontal and one vertical. The horizontal competition is highly visible: indeed, we see the evidence of it almost daily, as regional countries contest their respective territorial claims. But the vertical competition is less obvious:  it’s a contest over position, not of space. Rank and status matter in Asia. This is a region with a strong historical attachment to notions of hierarchy. We fret the consequences of a possible mishandling of the horizontal competition, but the vertical competition is probably the more serious one—because it’ll define the shape of the Asian security order in the 21st century. Why is that competition important? The main reason is that an era of relative Asian weakness is coming to an end, and Asian countries don’t share a unified vision of the hierarchy of 21st-century Asia. And that, in a nutshell, is what’s especially worrying about current security dynamics in Asia.

That’s not to say the horizontal strategic competition is irrelevant. It certainly isn’t. That contest has two core issues; the growth of Asian power projection capabilities, and the growing intensity of multi-player contests over small islands and rocks. The first of those issues is currently seen most clearly in the steady rise in China’s material power. ASPI analysts have talked before about the geographic expansion of Chinese military power as resembling a growing ‘bubble’, within which it’s becoming more challenging for adversaries to operate. That bubble is slowly expanding to cover more of the US’s principal allies and partners along the Asian rimlands, not to mention the US territories, bases and facilities to be found there. The growth of the bubble underpins Beijing’s ‘anti-access, area denial’ doctrine. Read more

Moreover, China’s recent push on its territorial claims in the South and East China Seas is a clear expression of Beijing’s objectives in the horizontal competition. China knows that it’s well-placed to wear down rival claimants one by one, and that it can do so without provoking a real crisis because the dominant strategic power in the region—the US—holds no position on who owns what. But China isn’t the only rising Asian power. Other Asian countries are generating their own somewhat smaller power bubbles as their economic and military strength expands. And they too are pushing back in relation to their own territorial claims, against China or another rising Asian player. Those various territorial competitions are perhaps best described as contests in low-intensity coercion. No-one wants the contests to escalate, but nor are any of the contestants willing to cede its claim.

One of the reasons why no-one’s pulling back from the horizontal competition is because of what such an action would imply in relation to the vertical competition. Abandoning a claim against a rival would be tantamount to deferring to another player. And such a pattern of accommodation would underpin the gradual emergence of a new strategic order in Asia. And that’s why the vertical competition’s important—because it’s a positional contest for places in the emerging 21st-century Asian hierarchy. Australia isn’t a direct player in the territorial contest, although it has direct interests in the ability of its major ally to operate in the Western Pacific. Our bigger choices are the ones related to the positional competition.

At the moment, we’re not competing with much vigour in the vertical competition. We occasionally send signals that we need to ‘weight up’ in Asia, but don’t show much understanding that the real competition is one of privilege and deference. We’re Westerners, after all. We cling to a notion that the region is moving towards a number of influential states playing alongside each other on an approximately level playing field. That’s a model built upon the basic equality of states, and appeals to our Westphalian understandings about sovereignty. In practice, of course, we accept that all countries aren’t equally influential, but nor do they have to be. But the Eastern notion of Asia is different. Over the past 2,000 years Asian countries have been drawn to models of hierarchy, not equality—to vertical distinctiveness, not to multipolar sameness.

Australia, as a Western country living in 21st-century Asia, has its own conception of an ideal Asian security hierarchy, and it’s one where the US remains the pre-eminent security actor. We seek to buttress that order by encouraging other regional states to support politically liberal, economically open, and socially inclusive values. That’s a noble order to aim for. But it might overlook the likelihood of a looming hierarchical competition as Asian great powers struggle for places on the regional ladder.

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

The perils of submarine operations

An RAAF AP 3C Orion snaps an allied submarine during an Anti Submarine Warfare evolution during RIMPAC 2010 off Hawaii. submarines suffer from severe command and control limitations, including the requirement to be close to the surface to make radio contact.

ASPI’s ‘Submarine Choice’ conference has highlighted much more than the central dilemma confronting Australia: what sort of submarines do we need and how should we acquire them? Various speakers have spoken of the broader consequences of submarine proliferation in the Indo-Pacific. Greater numbers of submarines are simply a fact of life for the region’s future. But in acquiring submarines for the first time or building up their submarine fleets, regional countries may be underestimating the risks of submarine operations. More submarines in the region pose challenges for maritime confidence building and ensuring submarine safety.

Submarines are inherently dangerous systems. Even a relatively minor accident onboard can have catastrophic consequences. Then there are the navigational risks associated with having more submarines operating in relatively confined waters with a high level of fishing activity and dense shipping traffic. Most seriously, more submarines in the region are potentially destabilising, particularly as they may be employed on covert surveillance and intelligence gathering missions in disputed waters.

Those problems can be accentuated because submarines suffer from severe command and control limitations. A submarine may be out of radio contact for extended periods of time. Radio waves don’t penetrate sea water to any extent, and a submarine has to put itself, or an antenna, close to the surface to make radio contact. In many operational circumstances, that may not be possible. Read more

Even the most proficient operators of submarines, including the US Navy and the Royal Navy, suffer submarine accidents with depressing regularity. Several incidents have occurred recently in both Japanese and United Kingdom waters when submerged submarines have caught the nets of fishing boats and dragged them under—in some cases with loss of life.

There are many prerequisites of safe submarine operations. Submariners are among the most highly trained of all naval professionals. Submarine commanding officers have a huge responsibility. Their training and experience levels must be commensurate with this responsibility. Navies must be confident that their submarine commanding officers have sufficient skills and experience to handle serious incidents, including ones that could escalate into conflict, on their own initiative and without guidance and direction from ashore.

By their very nature, submarines aren’t well suited to maritime confidence building measures, including incident at sea (INCSEA) type agreements. Countries are extremely secretive about submarine operations, which runs contrary to the desirable confidence-building principle of transparency.

Several measures might be considered to improve submarine safety in the region. Arrangements for water space management (WSM), and the prevention of mutual interference (PMI) with submarine operations might be possible. Western navies use a regional Submarine Operating Authority to ensure no overlap of submarine operations. Both the secretive nature of some submarine operations and a broader lack of trust mean regional countries are unlikely to subscribe to such an authority.

In the interests of submarine safety, Australia promulgates its entire EEZ (PDF) as a permanently established submarine exercise area. This isn’t a restriction on foreign submarines operating into the zone. But it means that foreign submarines wishing to operate there should either transit on the surface or advise of their movements if the risk of submarine collision is to be removed. Regional countries might consider a similar measure.

A regional submarine Movement Advisory Authority along the lines of the procedures currently followed by Western navies might be possible. That would mean that parties to the regime know the operating areas of other submarines. Again, that’ll be difficult in view of the essentially covert nature of submarine operations and the sensitivity of many regional countries to sovereignty issues. In the longer-term, the establishment of submarine exclusion zones or ‘no go’ areas might be achievable, particularly in areas where sovereignty over islands and reefs is disputed.

Meanwhile, a range of prospective measures for mitigating the adverse consequences of regional submarine developments should be considered. Those might include regional protocols for dealing with unidentified submarines detected in the territorial sea, including the procedures to be followed and the signals to be used. Such protocols might include an agreement that in normal circumstances, the submarine shouldn’t be attacked with potentially lethal force. Government to government ‘hot-lines’ between national submarine operating authorities to deal specifically with submarine incidents might also be considered.

Continued regional cooperation is required on submarine training and safety, including submarine escape exercises and the development of protocols for cooperation to deal with missing or sunk submarines. A regional submarine rescue organisation could be introduced in which China, as a major operator of submarines, might play a part.

Submarine crews must be highly proficient, but some in the region may fall short in this regard. There are major implications here for Australia’s submariners. Despite how well our own submariners are trained, submarine safety is like road safety: the avoidance of an accident also depends on the skill of the other driver and the quality of the road rules. And we’re going to have more drivers on regional undersea highways in the future without the necessary rules in place.

Sam Bateman is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.