General

Defence and the diarchy

The diarchy: butting heads on occasion

If the First Principles Review of Defence goes back to first principles, it’ll have to examine the diarchy wherein Defence is jointly headed by the Secretary and CDF. That’s likely to occur given that one Review panel member—retired Army chief Peter Leahy—is on the record arguing that the Minister should ‘ask himself why Defence is the only department or agency in the country run by a diarchy’.

In a speech in 2000, then departmental secretary Allan Hawke said that the diarchy was ‘about bringing together the responsibilities and complementary abilities of public servants and military officials’. In terms of responsibilities this is undoubtedly true, but only in a circular sense because legislation has been drafted consistent with a diarchy. The fact that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) is headed by a uniformed commissioner shows that there’s no underlying legal impediment to putting the CDF in sole charge.

What about complementary abilities? Is Defence really so large and complex that it requires two leaders with different backgrounds to manage the enterprise effectively? Of course not; the largest of corporations and even entire countries get by with a single head. Where specialist advice is needed, specialists can provide it. Whatever expertise a departmental secretary has could easily be relegated to a subordinate reporting to the CDF—as effectively occurs in the AFP.

So why have a diarchy? Although such an arrangement is almost unheard of in the business world, Australia’s defence diarchy isn’t unique; the United Kingdom for one has a similar arrangement. Other countries, such as Canada and New Zealand, maintain civilian defence departments in parallel with their defence forces. The common and essential element is that the government has dual sources of advice on military affairs. In its own way, the United States achieves the same thing within its system.

The involvement of civilian officials in defence matters is an essential part of the elected government maintaining effective control of the military. The risk is not of insubordination; the ADF’s obedience to the government of the day is beyond reproach—as tends to be the case wherever the rule of law prevails. Rather, civilian involvement is needed to ensure a level of objectivity in defence administration that can’t realistically be expected from the military.

The Army, Navy and Air Force, and the ADF as a whole, are institutions with strongly ingrained identities. That’s as it should be; the fighting coherence of our forces is as dependent on their distinct institutional characteristics as it is on their equipment. But with ingrained identities come ingrained aspirations that can put institutional desires above the needs of Australia’s defence. In a classic RAND study from the 1980s, Carl Builder captured the idiosyncratic ways that the US Army, Navy and Air Force each approach the problem of force planning—all largely divorced from strategy. The three Australian military services are little different today.

Moreover, the senior ADF leadership have dual responsibilities: upward to the minister, and downward to its members and to the institution(s). What service chief doesn’t argue for the best equipment, best facilities and best conditions of service for their members? I don’t expect them to do otherwise, but neither do I want an inefficient and gold-plated defence force. As in any other area of government activity, spending should be disciplined by the cold, dispassionate balancing of costs and benefits.

For exactly the same reasons that the Australian Medical Association wouldn’t be given control of health administration, or teachers control over education administration, neither should the military be the government’s sole source of advice about itself. The diarchy (or something like it) is needed to temper the institutional introspection of the military in favour of the objective interests of Australia’s defence and the taxpayer.

How can that best be done? The pros and cons of having a diarchy, as opposed to having a separate defence department and defence force, have been discussed by Derek Quigley (ex-NZ MINDEF) and Neil James (ADA Executive Director). However, the differences between the two options are ultimately of practicality rather than principle. For what it’s worth, I’m firmly in favour retaining the diarchy. When it comes to civilian involvement in military matters, the closer and more integrated the better.

While civilian bureaucratic involvement in Defence is desirable, its present implementation remains imperfect. Today’s plans for the ADF are little more than the sum total of single-service wish-lists, and defence efficiency remains a distant hope. The diarchy may be necessary but it’s manifestly insufficient. Otherwise why would the government have turned—yet again—to external advisors to tell them how to fix Defence?

Mark Thomson is senior analyst for defence economics at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user Marin.

Unconventional warfare and strategic optionality

Hamid Karzai with U.S. Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 574 during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001.

The recent debate over coalition strategy against ISIL has reawakened a related question: whether to support rebel groups in Syria in their fight against ISIL and Bashar al-Assad, and if so how? Even former US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is now expressing regret at not having armed certain Syrian rebel groups earlier. It seems the US will train and arm some rebels but not send Special Forces to embed with and advise them. Two important concepts appear to be absent from the strategic culture of the US and most Western countries: unconventional warfare and strategic optionality.

Unconventional warfare (UW) is often confused with asymmetric warfare or hybrid warfare. But UW has a specific definition. It refers to ‘activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow an occupying power or government by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary, and guerrilla force in a denied area’. UW is what the US engaged in at various times throughout the Cold War when it deliberately supported insurgent groups in Tibet, Angola, Nicaragua, Indonesia, and Afghanistan, for example. It’s also what the US did so effectively in the opening stages of Operation Enduring Freedom.

UW is frustrating for the strategist for at least two reasons: the complexity of groups and allegiances, and the principal–agent problem. The first reason is self-explanatory to anyone who’s tried to keep track of the factions involved in the ongoing civil war in Syria. The principal–agent problem, explained by political scientist Idean Salehyan, says proxy forces don’t always act the way you want them to—they have their own interests. That’s what economists and political scientists call agency slack. If there’s too much slack the group may not be a reliable partner. Reducing agency slack requires leverage through economic, physical, and emotional incentives. To influence your insurgent proxy you need to be there on the ground with them, earn their respect, support them, and demonstrate your ability to improve their chances of success. You can’t just drop some bombs on their enemy or offer to train them. They’d be pleased if you did, but would owe you nothing.

Those two challenges help explain why UW campaigns aren’t central to US and Western strategic culture. UW is rarely the main effort of a US military campaign. Usually, proxy forces play a supporting role intended to increase the relative friction faced by an adversary while a larger conventional campaign defeats the enemy force. The OSS support to the French resistance in World War II is an example. For UW to play a more decisive role there must be a more fulsome embrace of the strategy.

While embedding advisers helps address the principal–agent problem, optionality helps address the problem of groups and allegiances. Strategic optionality is best described as the deliberate employment of multiple, parallel efforts to shape the environment and the behaviour of actors within it. Additionally, it comes with the intent of selectively switching support as a campaign unfolds: abandoning ineffective or counterproductive efforts in order to increase support for effective ones. It’s a fancy way of saying ‘create options, seize opportunities, and cut losses’. Strategic optionality means sometimes you have to invest effort and resources at one level in order to ensure that you have options later to influence outcomes at another.

Two recent historical UW campaigns help illustrate why strategic optionality is important if proxy forces are to be central to victory. Consider the first phase of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and compare it to the recent NATO Campaign in Libya. After 9/11 the US military adopted a strategy based upon UW and strategic optionality. By inserting numerous CIA and Special Forces teams to work with the many factions of the Northern Alliance, the US committed blood and treasure to an uncertain strategy. In return, strategic leaders gained a better understanding of the proxy forces that would determine the future of the country. And because the US had embedded people, training, money, weapons and combat power, it could influence its proxies and shape outcomes. It did so through personal relationships which enabled it to strengthen Hamid Karzai as a viable national leader and use its influence to ensure that the rest of the Northern Alliance didn’t fracture and fight each other. The US even had to pull out some special forces teams early in OEF because their proxy militia proved an unreliable and counterproductive partner. The extraction of those teams was not a failure or a bad investment, it was part of the strategic optionality necessary in a UW campaign.

In Libya, NATO conducted UW on the cheap through the application of combat power in the form of air strikes, but refused to embed Special Forces, thereby limiting the conduct of UW. It had no relationships and no leverage over its proxies. Much like the current Syria strategy, NATO leaders in charge of the Libya campaign used UW without optionality and hoped that the disparate groups would somehow come together on their own; the result was a failed state and a terrorist safe haven.

What outcome is the coalition seeking in Syria and Iraq? If it intends to conduct a UW campaign and rely on proxies to defeat ISIS and Assad then it should embed Special Forces and exercise some strategic optionality.

 Jan K. Gleiman is a visiting fellow at ASPI. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

United Nations highlights the need for clear approaches to radicalisation  

United Nations Security Council ChamberThe United Nations Security Council unanimously voted 15-0 last week to adopt Resolution 2178 on Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs). While Obama’s accompanying speech promised that the US and allied partners would dismantle and then destroy the ‘network of death’ that is ISIS, it’s the content of the resolution that’s more surprising. It places direct responsibility upon states to stem the flow of FTF’s into Syria and Iraq, and for the first time, the Council underscores that Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) is an essential element of an effective response.

The resolution defines FTFs as individuals who travel to a state other than their states of residence or nationality for the purpose of ‘perpetration, planning, or preparation of, or participation in, terrorist acts or the providing or receiving of terrorist training’ and made specific reference to concerns over those individuals who had joined the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), al-Nusra Front and other groups in some way connected to al-Qaeda. Under the resolution, countries have to ‘prevent and supress recruiting, organising, transporting, and equipping of FTFs, and the financing of FTF travel and activities’, and must have laws which allow for the prosecution of those departing their nations for terrorist related purposes. Read more

This comes at a time when the Australian Parliament is debating its own legislative changes to address the foreign-fighter issue, with one of the most contentious elements being the move to make it an offence to travel to or remain in a ‘declared area’ designated as being of ‘terrorist activity’ without a valid reason. Some have argued that constitutes a reversal of the onus of proof and clarity will certainly need to be provided in the weeks ahead to allay the fears of the broader public. However, Resolution 2178 demonstrates that UN thinking largely parallels the Australian government’s in terms of countering FTFs. There was a careful caveat in the wording that Member States must comply with their human rights obligations when fighting terrorism and a note that a failure to do so contributes to radicalisation. The resolution thus recognises that ‘fighting evil with evil’ plays into the hands of terrorist groups.

Whilst that element of the resolution was in step with Australian policymaking, there were areas of disconnect, where Australia could do more. The fact that CVE was mentioned as ‘essential’ in responding to this issue was a first for the UN. The document underlined the importance of engaging relevant local communities, empowering concerned groups of civil society and tailoring approaches to countering recruitment, and that’s an area where Australia could focus more. Yes, the legislative tools are important to empower our security apparatus to counter the threat and stem the flow of potential fighters into theatre, but tackling the ‘softer’ approaches to diverting people away from that course of action is more problematic, often difficult to measure and causes controversy of its own. Done well, this can create better linkages and partnerships between government and communities, helping build trust; delivered poorly it can have the opposite impact. Australia has worked hard in that area, funding many community projects, but more projects looking to develop effective intervention strategies in partnership with other statutory partners, to divert young people away from those groups would be a wise move.

The other area that the UN highlighted was the use of the ‘internet to incite others to commit terrorist acts’, and the need to ‘prevent terrorists from exploiting technology to incite support for terrorist acts’. Currently Australia, along with the other nations present at the UN, find themselves in the midst of an ‘online jihad 3.0’ (PDF) and are playing a slow catch-up game in relation to ISIS’s radicalisation narrative. Australia needs to think about how to combat the online narrative within its counter-terrorism approach.

So far the security apparatus in Australia has succeeded in interdicting potential terrorist plots, and clearly the cooperative counter-terrorism teams are working well at joining up federal and state police alongside ASIO. But the threat is morphing and changing from that faced only a few years ago. It would be a good time to re-visit the 2012 Australian Counter Terrorism Plan and ensure that it adequately addresses the changing threat environment, and puts an appropriate focus on CVE and the online environment.

Tobias Feakin is a senior analyst at ASPI and director of ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre. Edited image courtesy of Flickr user Jason Paris.

Why and how failed states recover: book review

UN Team Navigates through Western SaharaMore than one billion of the world’s seven billion people live in failed or failing states. Why and how do failed states recover and why haven’t the lessons of state failure over the past sixty years been learned? Why do we continue to see the same mistakes repeated again and again?

In his new book Why States Recover, Greg Mills, the head of the South African-based Brenthurst Foundation, conducted fieldwork in over 40 countries on four continents to provide a compelling first-hand account of the causes of state failure and the prescriptions of recovery. Mills concludes that states can and do recover from failure, but we shouldn’t expect any quick fixes.

As someone who has been engaged with fragile and recovering states in Africa over a good many years, I’m familiar with the massive challenges of rebuilding infrastructure and bringing justice and reconciliation to damaged communities.  As Mills points out it starts with a legitimate local leadership building trust through policies that provide better basic services, creating opportunities, imposing the rule of law and opening the door to private-sector investment. Read more

Why States Recover makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of state failure and in some cases, recovery. The book is a deeply personal one, recording Mills’ discovery—mostly from his experiences in the field—that returning failed states to recovery depends crucially on insiders and what they do. The key point here is that successful recovery demands that the political leadership interpret the reasons for failure as primarily internal, not external.

Mills analyses why Africa has the majority of failed and fragile states, while East Asia has turned fragility into some extraordinary successes, maintaining economic growth rates at multiples greater than anything seen in the previous 200 years of European and North American development history.

Despite having similar colonial experiences, South East Asia’s per capita GDP has risen to USD13,000 while across sub-Saharan Africa the figure has virtually flat-lined since the 1960s at less than USD1,000 per annum.

Mills suggests that a combination of factors rather than any one issue have sown the seeds of failure in Africa. A lack of a critical mass of skilled people able to participate in development across much of sub-Saharan Africa is one reason. The inheritance of imperial borders—making local government less competitive and unable to raise taxes to enable territory-wide government—is another.

Mills challenges conventional wisdom about the importance of aid. He cites the tendency towards less reliance on domestic sources of tax revenue as both an effect of and a reason for increasing inflows of foreign aid. He argues that a feeling of insecurity towards outsiders may help explain why the tendency of many weak states in Africa has been to look to outsiders for salvation, most notably through aid.

Mills makes a strong case for a clear link between democratic and economic performance, citing the UN Human Development Index which classifies 41 of the top 47 countries as ‘free’. He says the great asset of democracy is that it makes policies and politics more competitive in the marketplace of ideas.

But it’s also vitally important to recognise that fragile and failed states can recover only if fixing the mess is owned by local leadership. Mills contends that establishing a virtuous circle of state recovery requires not only higher levels of efficiency in government, the imposition of the rule of law and ending of monopolies, but the establishment of an environment that spurs an innovative and transformational culture.

In terms of the first-order priority of security, Mills argues that outsiders can, in the right circumstance, play a useful role. But he makes the point that, as Iraq and Afghanistan illustrate, there’s no such thing as a ‘security solution’ to a country’s problems: it’s the political and economic solution which is crucial for medium-term stability.

Mills cautions the donor community not to overwhelm the limited capacity of governments and the people they’re trying to help. Transferring ownership of imported ideas to local politicians is necessary for good ideas to take root. That requires building the capacity among the technocrats and the politicians.

Mills argues that donor agencies don’t appreciate that sustainable salvation isn’t going to happen as a result of welfare from foreign taxpayers. Locals themselves must take on that responsibility. Mills poses a disturbing question: if we know the policies that lead to growth, and we know the policies that will kill it, then why aren’t the correct solutions implemented? His answer: short-term political or personal financial self-interest stops politicians from having the will to act in a different way.

The book is relevant for those interested in global security, foreign and economic policy and development with insights into countries of strategic interest, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Myanmar and the continent of Africa. Most importantly, the book provides reasons to have optimism about the future, something often in short supply when discussing state failure.

Billy Williams is a former Australian diplomat who served in south and west Africa between 2002 and 2013. He continues to be engaged in the development issues of the continent. Image courtesy of Flickr user United Nations Photo.

What Jokowi confronts

Through the Suharto years, the economists were optimistic about Indonesia and the political scientists were pessimistic. Now the roles have reversed.

With the explosion of Indonesian democracy, the political types can hardly contain their joy at the rich vistas—oh, what glory to study the cornucopia that is today’s Indonesia. The economists have reverted to type as exponents of the dismal science. The role switch was on display at the 32nd annual Indonesia Update at the Australian National University the other day.

Professor Hal Hill, one of the two most cheerful economists I know—with a grin to match his smarts—opined that Indonesia is at an economic crossroads, facing its most difficult period since the 1997–98 financial crisis toppled Suharto. Prof Hal sees a complete disconnect between the political narrative of this election year and the economic reality facing Indonesia. Read more

The optimism of the political analysts was best expressed by Dewi Fortuna Anwar, from the office of Indonesia’s Vice President, describing a modern Asian success story: ‘Indonesia is stronger, more democratic and more united than it was ten years ago.’

In the classic Indonesian manner, they are both right. The tensions between the economic and political visions are captured in Dr Peter McCawley’s new ASPI paper. Peter’s my other cheerful economist; perhaps having devoted his life to development economics, optimism rates as a professional need as well as personal trait.

In the ASPI interview with McCawley, we started with the series of summits Jokowi will attend as soon as he is sworn in—APEC in Beijing, East Asia Summit in Naypyitaw and the G20 in Brisbane. McCawley suggests Jokowi might quickly adopt the mantle of a Javanese leader and just ‘nod and listen’.

Even in considering the trio of summits and Jokowi’s new leadership of ASEAN, the discussion quickly reverts to Indonesian domestic dynamics—from money politics to the institutional limits confronting the new president.

Will Jokowi, like SBY, preside not rule, govern not change? As McCawley observes, power is dispersed:

We are now learning something about the position of the presidency of Indonesia. What does it mean to be the President of Indonesia? And how much real power does the presidency hold? Joko Widowo and SBY are far closer in the powers they have to the President of the United States than they are to, say, the Prime Minister of Australia. The President of the US always has to bargain with the Congress and finds it quite difficult and is sometimes subject to surprising rulings from the judiciary as well; that traditional three prongs of power, the administration, the legislature and the judiciary…It’s a mistake to assume—and this is becoming clearer and clearer—it’s a mistake to assume that the President of Indonesia can necessarily easily get his way with the legislature. For 40 years we lived with President Suharto who made parliament look quite unimportant. The game has changed dramatically now. This will be tested in the next three months, six months, under President Joko Widodo.

In his ASPI paper, McCawley writes that the two economic scenarios on offer are an outward-looking reform path that would be politically tough to implement versus  a populist and nationalist resilience path that would turn Indonesia inwards:

If there are strong pressures on Joko Widodo, including from the parliament, to adopt populist policies, the incoming government may find it difficult to promote strong economic growth. In an inward-looking resilience scenario in which the government faces resistance to reform measures, the overall rate of economic growth could remain relatively low, perhaps below 6% per year. That wouldn’t be sufficient to provide jobs for the expanding labour force, and unemployment could be expected to rise. Criticism of Widodo’s leadership would be likely to grow. The first requirement for a higher rate of growth is a sustained level of investment of over 30% of GDP. But increasing nationalism would be likely to discourage foreign investment, particularly in the oil and mining sectors. In turn, that would also tend to constrain domestic investment. In that case, the other sectors of the economy could also become sluggish before too long.

The interview finishes on Australia and Indonesia (their elites understand Oz a lot better than our elites understand the giant next door, McCawley observes) and the neighbourly echoes to be found in political jokes.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalist fellow.

We’ll be back tomorrow

The gnomes of Floriade.

It’s a Family & Community Day public holiday here in Canberra so we’ll be back tomorrow with our usual considered analysis, stats and graphs for your reading pleasure.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for something to read, check out two new ASPI reports released last week: one on al-Qaeda affiliates and African security and another on Indonesia’s future pathways under Joko Widodo. There’s also ‘ASPI suggests’ for the latest reports, podcasts and videos from the defence and security world. The Strategist team

Image courtesy of Flickr user sacharules.

The strategic power of small acts

Australian Federal Police on security duty (AFP)The recent instances of ‘home-grown’ terrorism and terrorism-related activities provide a useful basis upon which to reiterate some important dynamics of contemporary global terrorism. The disrupted plan in Sydney, and the more recent incident in Melbourne are characteristic of a number of important aspects of the contemporary global terrorist milieu. It’s tempting to see those incidents as the actions of ‘lone wolf’ terrorists, or as the product of a small, marginalised and disconnected group. But, put in context, they’re also something else: the ultimate manifestation of an intentional, targeted, and sophisticated strategic campaign that seeks to enable and empower individual and small-cell jihadist attacks within Western jurisdictions as a complement to the ongoing conflicts that jihadist entities are engaged in across the globe.

An analysis of the recent ‘beheading’ phenomena helps illuminate the model. What began as a series of videos of the beheading of Westerners has transformed, through media saturation and direct instruction and encouragement, into a beheading plot and a second individual jihadist action, both in Australia. That relationship between the broader idea and ideology of global jihad, the localised ‘open front’ conflict in Syria and Iraq, and individual and small-cell jihadist actions elsewhere, sits at the core of the ‘home-grown’ terrorist threat. Read more

It’s those individual and small-cell jihadists—what AQ strategist Abu Musab al-Suri called the ‘resistance units’—that present arguably the greatest challenge to intelligence and law-enforcement agencies. The reason that these otherwise small-scale acts of violence are able to garner substantially disproportionate power and impact, and to strike terror into their target audience, relates directly to the construction of a sophisticated strategic narrative. The development and deployment of increasingly articulate and professional multimedia and social media campaigns deliver those small acts a grossly disproportionate impact and, more importantly, meaning.

That’s in many ways the core dynamic of terrorism, whereby violence is utilised as a means of communicating an ideological or political agenda and is not an end in itself. The purpose of either beheading an innocent member of the public, of murdering a soldier, or shooting four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels, is not the killing itself, but the garnering of media coverage and exposure for the ideological cause which is cited as the justification for the acts. It also serves to reinforce the existing understanding of, and familiarity with, the message. Indeed, much of the world is now all too familiar with the black banner, cries of ‘allahu akbar’ and an entire lexicon related to jihadist ideas.

It’s that context, and the supporting media content produced by entities such as al-Qaeda’s as-Sahab or ISIS’ al Hayat Media Centre, that empowers and ‘legitimises’ those individual jihadists and their actions. That communicative dynamic of terrorism is exceptionally difficult to counter and as yet there’s been little in the way of successful counter strategies deployed. The increased capacity of terrorist networks, via social media platforms, to circumvent traditional news media and release their own content onto the Internet, has greatly enhanced the power of those narratives. When fused with sophisticated yet practical outputs, such as Inspire magazine, potential individual jihadists are readily exposed to content that informs them they are both obligated and permitted to undertake an attack, and provides them with a range of simple targeting and tactical options.

If the discrete violent acts that embody the majority of recent ‘home-grown’ terrorist acts are considered in isolation, they’re tragic, but not substantive threats to national security. It’s only when they’re contextualised within the narrative of the global jihadist idea that those acts obtain national security significance. It’s that intangible component of terrorist activity that’s challenging to confront. While Australia has been effective at disrupting and preventing in-country mass-casualty terrorism, the challenge of individual and small-cell jihadist terrorism is an all together different question. Part of the appeal of that approach to terrorist activity is the minimisation of exposure to intelligence and law-enforcement agencies by virtue of the absence of direct communication with any organisational structure and the simplicity of an attack. Such an approach minimises the capacity for the plotting of large-scale, mass-casualty events—but enables a proliferation of smaller-scale actions requiring fewer resources and lesser capabilities, while maintaining adequate political and media attention so as to ensure a continual reinforcement of the narrative.

That evolution of the terrorist threat, and the arrival in Australia of active, offensive, individual and small-cell jihadist terrorism, demands the permanent embedding of our counter-terrorism structures (and funding) into the normal operations of government. There’s a need to view instances of individual and small-cell terrorism as part of an holistic threat that evolves and adapts as necessary, living under the broad banner of global jihadist terrorism. Policy responses must resist transactional, isolated or reactionary responses that treat incidents as discrete activities. If, as Army Chief David Morrison suggests, we’re at the beginning of another ‘long war’ then these individual manifestations of war must be treated as such. Australian security agencies have operated exceptionally well in the years since 9/11. Governments must continue to ensure that they are adequately resourced, authorised and have sufficient manpower to continue to keep the Australian public secure. That’s, after all, the first duty of government.

Levi West is a lecturer in Terrorism Studies at the Australian Graduate School of Policing and Security, Charles Sturt University, Canberra. Image courtesy of Flickr user Neerav Bhat

Reader’s response: modest assistance for African counterterrorism

A.U. and Somali Forces Capture Strategic Positions in Fight Against Shabaab

Africa’s more stable than ever before. The continent’s economy is growing faster than any other’s. According to International Monetary Fund figures, 10 of the world’s 20 fastest-growing economies are located in Africa. The continent’s population is expected to double by 2050 to more than 2 billion people.

Yet as Tobias Feakin makes clear in his recent report and blog post, the spread of violent Islamic extremism in Africa is troubling; there’s no doubt that terrorism is limiting Africa’s progress.

A peaceful and economically strong Africa can counter the threats of terrorism. A more secure Africa is one in which Australian engagement can flourish. So what can we do to help Africa here?

I’d suggest we should offer modest security assistance, focused on those states who respect democratic principles: we shouldn’t be offering security help to regimes that abuse their own citizens. Read more

We might consider sending a defence or foreign affairs officer to serve with US Africa Command (in the same way we’ve attached senior Defence people to PACOM).

Unlike the other US regional commands, which were created primarily for warfighting, Africa Command is designed to support regional partners and includes large components from other government agencies like the State Department and the US Agency for International Development. AFRICOM’s whole-of-government approach has been evident in its counterterrorism work.

Africa has a number of highly professional militaries. But we could make worthwhile, albeit modest, efforts to assist defence institution-building. IED detonations are of great concern in Africa. ADF personnel are among the best in the world at managing this threat so we might offer assistance here.

Unfortunately there’s minimal funding for defence cooperation with Africa: we have only one Australian defence attaché on the continent (based in Addis Ababa). That’s totally inadequate to cover the many areas of potential defence cooperation across 54 countries

We can lift our efforts in peace operations on the continent and do more with UN missions to show we’ve not forgotten about Africa after our UNSC stint ends later this year: seventy percent of UNSC business concerns Africa.

Given the links between crime, corruption and terrorism on the continent, we could provide training through Attorney–General’s on financial crimes and anti-corruption.

Training opportunities in counterterrorism in Africa should be explored by our Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism. It helps here that we weren’t a colonial power. Our Australia Awards could be extended in this area.

We’ve got a range of humanitarian goals across sub-Saharan Africa, but countering Islamist militancy should be accorded a higher priority in our aid policy. Our aid to Africa has slipped from around $230 million last financial year to around $150 million this financial year. (There’s a case for stabilising it for now at around 5 per cent of our aid program, i.e. around $250 million.)

We should be spending our African aid budget in those countries threatened by jihadist groups and lacking the resources to fund the necessary capabilities to defeat those terrorist groups.

Australia’s long term global interests are served by tackling terrorist groups at the source by building local capacity. We might consider a special program on counterterrorism working with the appropriate NGOs.

We should sponsor educational institutions that compete with radical messages emitted from foreign-funded educational institutions. We’ve done that in Indonesia. Africa’s full of mosques built with Saudi and Libyan money, and Imams trained accordingly. That needs to be balanced with more enlightened Islamic preachers.

We should focus on nation-building in those front-line African states as part of a co-ordinated strategy worked out with all other agencies of government to counter Islamist militancy in Africa: our foreign aid should be seen as the soft end of counterterrorism.

Communication via social media is of growing significance in Africa and that can be important in developing counter-narratives. But we have no public diplomacy activities in Africa yet to promote universal values in any organised way. We could partner here with other ‘like-mindeds’, such as the UK, US, Germany, and the Nordics.

Countering Islamist and other militia groups could be directed by supporting regional bodies, such as the Economic Community of West African States. That would build better capacity for coordinated responses to cross-border groups, like Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Tuareg in Mali.

We might partner in areas like security sector reform and forensics. Our federal police have, however, only one Africa-based officer (located in Pretoria).

Counterterrorism shouldn’t trump all our other causes for aid. But we can make a modest contribution to building Africa’s resilience to the forces of international terrorism.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user United Nations Photo.

Joko Widodo’s Indonesia: possible future paths

Indonesian president elect, Joko Widodo.

With a population of around 250 million, Indonesia is the world’s third-largest developing country. What’s less well-known is that Indonesia is the de facto leader of ASEAN, a key regional grouping with a population of over 600 million people and a combined GDP (2012 PPP estimates) approaching that of India and Japan. Therefore, Indonesia’s prospects to 2020 and beyond should be a central consideration for international policymakers considering likely trends in Asia during the decade ahead.

This survey looks at the possible paths for policy and development in Indonesia under the leadership of the seventh president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, who will take office in Jakarta on 20 October. The first part of the survey is a stocktake of the challenges that lie ahead after ten years of largely peaceful and progressive administration under the leadership of Indonesia’s sixth president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY). The stocktake assesses the state of play in five areas: the political system; economic challenges; government and administration; social issues; and foreign affairs. Read more

Then two possible scenarios of governance under the new administration are considered:

  • An outward-looking reform path would be likely to be harder to implement in the short term but promises significant gains in the medium term.
  • An inward-looking resilience path would perhaps be a more popular option with some powerful groups in Indonesia but would delay many urgently needed reforms.

President Joko Widodo will face a range of early challenges. He’ll need to build good political support for his programs within Indonesia to be able to follow a reform path. And the economic challenges he faces are formidable. He has promised to try to reduce Indonesia’s large energy subsidies, which are limiting fiscal policy, but that won’t be easy. He has also identified the need to encourage investment, boost support for infrastructure development, and implement poverty-alleviation programs. Reform of government and administration will also be needed. Widodo has often expressed his personal frustration with the delays and inefficiencies of the public sector in Indonesia. As president, the buck stops with him. It’s now up to him to implement public-sector reform.

In the area of foreign policy, he’ll have little time to review issues before three major international meetings appear on his agenda. Within three weeks of his appointment, there’ll be APEC in Beijing, the East Asia Summit in Naypyitaw and the G20 in Brisbane. At those meetings, both he and the policies of the new government will come under close attention. The international community will have an opportunity to gain an early first-hand impression of the style of the new president and of the prospects for Indonesian economic policy under the new administration. Outward-looking statements in two areas would send a clear positive signal: a statement encouraging stronger economic growth by promoting investment and structural reform (not protectionism), and a statement in support of the growing role of ASEAN in regional cooperation programs.

But there’s no guarantee that it’ll be easy for Widodo to implement reforms. He may find that there are considerable pressures on him to adopt a more inward-looking resilience scenario. Indeed, the new president might not find it easy to govern.

Widodo’s position is difficult because, although he won the presidential election in July, the oppositionist pro-Prabowo Subianto grouping in the parliament appears to have a clear majority of seats after the legislative elections in April. Widodo may need to draw on all of his considerable political and negotiating skills to work with a parliament in which the majority bloc of votes is so unsympathetic to the administration.

The new president may also find it difficult to adopt economic policies promoting outwardly-oriented economic growth. Recently, the overall rate of economic growth in Indonesia has been slowing. The Indonesian economy needs to grow at 6% or more per year to generate enough jobs to absorb new entrants to the labour force. But the current growth rate is trending downwards, at close to 5% per year. Somehow, Widodo needs to find ways to boost growth across the economy.

President Joko Widodo may also find that it’s not easy to promote reform within government. Recent experience in Indonesia isn’t encouraging. Proposed reforms set out in a law introduced by the SBY administration proved difficult to implement. Similarly, the incoming president has raised expectations among civil society groups. There are now wide expectations among activist groups that supported him that he will pursue ‘pro-people welfare’ programs. But the cost of implementing those programs is considerable, and the national budget is strictly limited.

In contrast to a reform-oriented foreign policy, a nationalist policy focused on domestic resilience could be less accommodating and more cautious about participating in ambitious international or regional plans. Many Indonesians would support an approach of this kind, maintaining that Indonesia can only hope to provide leadership across the region once the country has strong institutions and a strong economy.

At the end of a largely peaceful and progressive ten years of administration under SBY, Indonesia’s institutions have grown stronger, and its international standing has risen. The country’s seventh president, Joko Widodo, will now need to decide whether to adopt an outward-looking reform program or to pursue a more inward-looking approach intended to promote resilience at home. Perhaps, depending on circumstances, he’ll select policies that combine elements from both the reform and the resilience paths.

Peter McCawley is currently a visiting fellow at the Indonesia Project, ANU. His most recent work in Indonesia (2011–2013) has been with the SEADI (USAID) project in Jakarta as an economic advisor in the National Planning Board (Bappenas). This post is adapted from a new ASPI Strategy released today, available for download here. Image courtesy of Flickr user Hendrik Mintarno.

Islamic State (3): info war

Great mosque of Ar-Raqqa

In the first post in this series, I argued that Islamic State (IS) is neither a terrorist organisation nor unique as some claim, and that it’s better seen as an insurgency. In the second post, I explored the range of motivations that its supporters have for backing IS—a range which doesn’t support the idea that IS rose using coercion alone nor that it can be defeated similarly. In this final post, I want to focus on ‘Information Operations’ (IO)—arguably the strategic heart of any modern insurgency, and simultaneously the single greatest weakness in counterterrorism (CT) and counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy. As then US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates lamented in 2008: ‘we’re being out-communicated by a guy in a cave’. Contrasting the US State Department’s ‘Think Again Turn Away’ counter-IS campaign with IS’s latest video ‘Flames of War’, that strategic deficit seems to have grown.

From Mao and Guevara to Ho Chi Minh and Bin Laden, there’s almost universal agreement in modern insurgency thinking that IO should have strategic primacy in any small-wars campaign. That’s exactly how the Islamic State (IS) calibrates its strategy. The new anti-IS coalition is confronting an insurgency that’s demonstrated a near-mastery of IO as a strategic mechanism to shape perceptions, frame politico-military actions and thus magnify the effects of its efforts in the field. By contrast, against the Taliban in Afghanistan, COIN IO has been acknowledged by senior commanders (eg Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup and former NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer) as a strategic weakness. That’s not a good sign for confronting IS whose IO is far more sophisticated than the Afghan Taliban’s. Read more

Another important distinction between insurgent and COIN/CT IO lies in its messaging. COIN/CT IO tends to focus on the ‘rational choice’ benefits of its politico-military actions. Conversely, IS’s seemingly magnetic appeal is rooted in how it leverages psychosocial dynamics to maximise the impact of its message. IS communiqués portray a bi-polar world in which out-group identities (eg anyone not IS-aligned) are responsible for causing crises and the in-group identity (IS-aligned Sunni Muslims) are framed as the only hope for solving those crises. In its war for meaning and control, IS IO doesn’t merely inform its audience but shapes their perceptions and polarises their support.

IS appears to heed a lesson perfected by bin Laden: the impact of insurgent narratives and actions can be exponentially boosted by misguided enemy responses. Nowhere is that dynamic clearer in the info-war space than when Western political leaders and their strategic-policy architects perpetuate the ‘war on evil ideas’ hubris (eg US, Australia, UK). Whenever a Western politician delivers a sanctimonious sermon on ‘real’ Islam or the US State Department launches a bizarre sarcastic anti-IS narrative, they’re succumbing to a key aim of IS IO: to coax out-group representatives (eg Western politicians) into rhetorically reinforcing IS narratives.

If Western politicians and strategic policymakers insist that an ‘ideological battle’ lies at the heart of this counter-IS campaign, then the conflict becomes a war of meaning and control about what constitutes true Islam. That’s exactly what IS wants. Military and civilian departments would never strategically decide to forfeit their resource and technological advantages in the fight against IS to ensure they fight on IS’s terms. Yet they rush to do so in relation to IS’s narrative.

Engaging in an ‘ideological battle’ is not just hubristic; it’s counter-productive. A counter-IS campaign which instead reverse-engineers IS’s info-war playbook would probably look to use IO to attach perceptions of crisis to IS (especially drawing on its acts of extreme violence), highlight discrepancies between IS narrative and action, and expose behaviours that rupture perceptions of IS as a powerful politico-military force.

There would be little value in adopting that utilitarian IO campaign and abandoning the ideological war yet symbolically perpetuating it with IS’s name. Strategically there are benefits to Western politicians referring to IS as ‘Daesh’—as the French are already doing. The term is used derogatively by many in the region and is despised by IS. Its broader use would show solidarity and reflect a common lexicon across the new coalition. One could even anticipate the abandonment of terms like ‘jihadists’ or ‘salafists’ to instead describe IS members as ‘Daeshists’. This type of hypothetical strategic shift would simultaneously attach IS to crisis, symbolically and rhetorically dislocate IS from its ideological proclamations and ensure the anti-IS coalition doesn’t perpetually succumb to the coaxing of its adversaries.

To avoid the mistakes of a mere decade ago, some harsh realities must be realised. Once we acknowledge that IS is an insurgency and that its supporters are driven by a range of motivations, it’s possible to understand why we can’t simply kill and proselytise our way out of this mayhem and why IS desperately hopes we’ll try. But to appreciate that, it’s necessary to understand the nuances and role of IS’s information war. Meanwhile, another generation in the Middle East is born into a world of almost incomprehensible suffering; an ideal incubator for the rage that so often seems to fuel violent revolutions.

Haroro J. Ingram is a research fellow with the School of International, Political and Strategic Studies (ANU). His ARC-funded project, ‘Through Their Eyes’, analyses insurgent ‘information operations’ and explores its role as a determining factor in the success of insurgent movements. Image courtesy of Flickr user Beshr O

Defence policy and industry: balance and options

Aerial view of Russell Offices in Canberra, taken from one of 723 Squadron's Bell 429 helicopters.

We’ve had two timely contributions to the current defence policy debate in Australia: the first by ANU’s Professor Hugh White; and the second by Innes Willox, Chief Executive of the Australian Industry Group.

Starting with White’s sound advice on how to ‘do defence policy better’, inputs, outputs and outcomes are critical but I believe the start point in the process is a clear and consistent vision of Australia and its role in the world. That context enables us to determine more directly the type of outcomes we as a nation see for ourselves. They’ll necessarily be long term in nature and contestable but they’ll provide the framework around which the broader security and defence debate can then take place.

Australia’s policymakers’ task is made more interesting because of its location; the size of its land mass, population and economy; and—of increasing importance—the perception held by others of Australia’s role both regionally and globally. Together those factors create a unique set of policy challenges. The input element is also made more complex because governments, notwithstanding their occasional fiery rhetoric, seem to dislike restricting the capability or output options available to future governments. Read more

Force structure decisions are critical—get them wrong and the options open to governments in the future close down quickly. That was the real issue for governments in the 90s: they had no options. That’s why balance becomes so important.

When the word balance is used in the same sentence as force structure many in the strategic policy arena get uncomfortable and abruptly reject the concept. So let me clarify my definition of balance. It’s certainly not about splitting the available defence budget equally across Army, Navy or Air Force or making decisions less contested or rigorous.

It’s about having a balanced defence force in capability terms, a ruler against which policy and capability decisions can be tested. As an example, the ‘air package’ that the Government is currently forward-positioning in the Middle East is self-reliant, balanced and capable—and importantly of a scale that meets Australia’s means. Self-reliant because it can see, sustain itself, and shoot. Balanced because it has the force elements necessary to prosecute the tasks given to it by government—and not limited just to either seeing, or sustaining or shooting. It’s capable because as a package it’s not a liability to others in the coalition but gives government a range of policy options over time based on policy grounds not capability deficiencies.

So the terms ‘balanced’ and ‘options’ are key, and segue nicely to Innes Willox’s contribution.

Setting aside the decision to ‘make or buy’ submarines for the moment, Willox’s broader point is that industry capability is about the means available to governments to sustain a force structure over its life. It’s not about rentseekers or industry assistance.

So what does Government and Defence want from a mature defence industry? The Prime Minister was absolutely right when he said that defence capability decisions are about defence capability not industry policy. Willox’s constituency would, no doubt, agree. But it might reasonably expect that government makes its expectations of the sector clear and consistent, a feature of government policy sadly lacking in recent times.

In doing so, government should recognise the industry capabilities that already exist in the defence sector of the economy. Defence industry policy also needs to acknowledge and leverage Australia’s competitive advantages. It can’t just be a defence manufacturing policy.

The 2000 White Paper triggered the entry of a number of new industry players into the local defence landscape. And Defence has been the beneficiary of that. The decision to enter the market wasn’t made because government gave out assistance or provided industry largesse; rather, what Canberra provided was a ten-year roadmap for defence. It offered not guarantees but predictability—around which companies could make their own decisions regarding risk and investment.

The First Principles Review team and those developing the new industry policy could take a leaf from the 2000 approach. Herewith, a couple of suggestions:

  • Balance in force structure is an important design principle.
  • The industry policy statement should outline some structural decisions around which policymakers at all levels of government and industry can plan and execute. For a start, why not leverage and build on the current ad hoc centres of excellence around Australia: South Australia for advanced shipbuilding and maintenance skills, Victoria for advanced vehicle design and manufacturing skills and Queensland for aviation?
  • Defence industry policy needs to be broader than a defence manufacturing policy. Indeed, any Defence reform in the near term will be critically enabled by leveraging the skills and expertise held by the service providers, the tertiary education sector and sectors such as catering, ICT, logistics, infrastructure or medical already operating in Defence. Those need to be explicitly embraced by the new statement.
  • It’s important to understand the R&D capabilities that industry could bring to DSTO and to identify concrete steps to build that relationship.
  • Finally the government’s new defence policy world should be assessed against its longevity of view and its capacity to deliver effective defence capability. It needs to be underpinned by a long-term collaborative approach, not a short-term ‘them and us’ mentality that currently pervades the broader defence sector relationship.

Michael Clifford is a senior fellow at ASPI. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Indonesia’s ‘global maritime nexus’: looming challenges at sea for Jokowi’s administration

The issue of illegal fishing by foreign vessels is likely to prove a pivotal challenge for Jokowi’s administration.

As Indonesian president-elect Joko Widodo, also known as Jokowi, prepares officially to begin his term later next month, there remains a degree of uncertainty regarding the future policy settings of his administration both at home and abroad. One thing, though, seems increasingly clear: momentum is building toward the realisation of Indonesia’s long-dormant potential to emerge as a maritime power.

The vision of Indonesia as a ‘global maritime nexus’ (poros maritim dunia) gained prominence during the presidential campaign and seems set to become a central focus of the upcoming Jokowi administration. While Indonesia’s emergence as a maritime power is by no means assured—it will face many challenges ahead—we may be witnessing the dawn of a new era in Indonesian history. Read more

The precise details of that maritime vision remain a work in progress, but some preliminary observations can be made. The foundation of the ‘global maritime nexus’ concept is primarily economic: it seeks to increase maritime connectivity and thus economic equality between the various Indonesian provinces. That argument has been convincingly advanced by Faisal Basri, a leading economist and member of Jokowi’s expert team on the economy. Yet according to Basri, the vision of Indonesia as a maritime power isn’t limited to the economic dimension alone, and can also contain a security or defence function, including the protection of state sovereignty.

While Jokowi hasn’t spoken at any length on his own vision of the concept, the vision and mission statement he submitted during the campaign prioritised the protection of Indonesia’s maritime interests. The public statements that Jokowi has made on the issue have repeatedly touched on that priority, specifically the problem of illegal fishing.

In comments made earlier this month and published in the local Indonesian press, Jokowi stated that it was necessary to act decisively against foreign fishing vessels in order to prevent the continued theft of Indonesian resources. ‘If we do not act decisively, our fish will be stolen by foreign ships’, Jokowi was quoted as saying. Such comments indicate that he may not be as disengaged on foreign policy matters as some have expected; in fact he may be more assertive on certain priorities.

The issue of illegal fishing by foreign vessels is likely to prove a pivotal challenge for Jokowi’s administration, and will almost certainly create tension with another emerging maritime power—China. China is hardly the only country whose fishermen are operating illegally in Indonesian waters. But it’s the only one whose fishermen are directly supported if not encouraged by the coercive power of its state security services at sea.

China’s expanded presence in disputed areas of the South China Sea is increasingly bringing its fishermen, and its maritime security organisations, into direct contact and often confrontation with those of Indonesia. While the Indonesian foreign ministry continues to maintain there’s no dispute between China and Indonesia, China’s actions suggest otherwise.

A number of incidents have occurred in the area since 2010, resulting from what ultimately proved to be unsuccessful attempts by Indonesian security forces to prosecute Chinese fishermen operating illegally within Indonesia’s claimed EEZ. Those efforts to assert Indonesian jurisdiction in its claimed EEZ are beginning to form a pattern of persistent failure, a pattern which, if left unaltered, may eventually compromise Indonesia’s military deterrent posture in those areas, as well as the legal basis for its claims.

The most recent of those incidents occurred in March of 2013. Since I first wrote about that incident for ASPI late last year new details have come to light, including the apparent use of electronic-warfare capabilities by the Chinese Maritime Law Enforcement (MLE) vessel Yuzheng 310. Based on the Indonesian captain’s own reporting, as well as subsequent investigation and analysis, it now appears highly likely that during that incident Yuzheng 310 jammed the communications of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (KKP) vessel Hiu Macan 001.

Consistent with the KKP captain’s description of events, Yuzheng 310 may have been disabling his ability to receive communications from his headquarters ashore, in an apparent effort to sever the vessel from its command and control (C2) loop. It appears likely Yuzheng 310 would have been calculating that—in combination with other coercive measures—the action would force the Indonesian captain to release his Chinese prisoners. The suite of measures had the desired effect, but might just as easily have proved dangerously escalatory had the KKP captain instead decided not to acquiesce.

Continued patrols in those areas by what is now the China Coast Guard may confront Jokowi with an early test of his leadership, possibly in a crisis scenario not dissimilar to that from March 2013. It remains to be seen whether or not the new administration is even aware of that potential contingency, let alone prepared to respond effectively.

Despite the obvious overlap between Jokowi’s focus on combating illegal fishing and the recent incidents with China in the South China Sea, it’s also unclear to what extent Jokowi is himself aware of that overlap, or the severity of the challenge it presents to his vision of Indonesia as a global maritime nexus. Addressing that challenge will require decisive leadership from the new president and his team, both domestically and abroad.

Scott Bentley is currently a PhD candidate at the Australian Defence Force Academy, UNSW. His research focuses on security strategies in maritime Southeast Asia. Image courtesy of Flickr user Hansel and Regrettal.