The UN Security Council takes up policing

Greg Hinds, Police Commissioner of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), addresses the Security Council meeting on the role of policing in peacekeeping and post-conflict peacebuilding.Last week the UN Security Council adopted its first resolution focused on policing issues. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop presided over the meeting as part of Australia’s presidency of the Council for November and declared the meeting and adoption of resolution 2185 ‘landmark steps’. It wasn’t an overstatement.

Police peacekeepers perform critical roles in assisting host states to reform policing and law enforcement institutions. Those efforts are essential to establishing the rule of law in post-conflict societies and supporting the eventual transition and drawdown of the mission.

The number of police peacekeepers has grown significantly over the last two decades (previously outlined here). Of the 103,952 uniformed personnel deployed to peacekeeping missions as of October 2014 (PDF), nearly 12% (12,331) are police. The role of police peacekeepers has evolved and expanded as peacekeeping missions have become multidimensional, but political discussions in New York have taken some time to catch up.

Field views from serving police are rarely heard by the Council in New York. That’s why it was important that the heads of police components were present to exchange views with the Council. It was an idea that emerged during the 2013 Finnish Security Council retreat (PDF), modelled on annual meetings that the Council had with heads of military components.

While sections of the Secretary-General’s written reports on peacekeeping missions routinely include elements on policing and security-sector reform, police commissioners aren’t generally called upon to brief the Council (unlike the civilian special representatives or force commanders). Given the Council’s role mandating police components in peacekeeping missions, hearing directly from police commissioners and asking them questions is valuable. The Council expressed its intent to hold similar meetings on an annual basis. It’s a welcome move.

The views expressed by the police commissioners reinforced many of the issues identified in the resolution. The police commissioner of the UN Mission in South Sudan told the Council that police contributors needed to look more closely at guidance and training prior to deployment. The assumptions that exist in a domestic policing context may not exist in a post-conflict one, as the UN policy (PDF) on police in peacekeeping and special political missions acknowledges. Policing cultures and approaches differ significantly between countries. With 91 countries contributing police to 13 peacekeeping operations and four special political missions, formulating a coherent and consistent approach is a challenge.

Resolution 2185 (PDF) attempts to address that and other systemic challenges. It requests the Secretary-General promote system-wide coherence and professionalism in policing work through the development of standards, guidance, training and evaluation processes. It also calls for mission-strategic planning processes to consider security-sector reform needs in the host country. Combined with other aspects, the resolution may ensure a greater degree of Council focus, direction and accountability when it comes to planning and mandating policing aspects of peacekeeping missions.

The resolution also recognises the important role of police when it comes to protection of civilians and preventing and responding to violence against women, and encourages countries to increase female police participation in peacekeeping. It identifies the need to respond to the complex and challenging threat environments to which police peacekeepers are being deployed. That includes sharing information with counter-terrorism entities, developing expertise on the implementation of sanctions regimes, and capacity-building efforts to address illicit small arms and light weapons. Such a comprehensive approach is essential to ensuring sustainable capacity-building within the local security sector.

Australia didn’t only influence the content of the resolution, but also the discussions at the Council table. In addition to Bishop, one of the briefers during the meeting was Greg Hinds, an Australian Federal Police officer serving as the Police Commissioner for the UN Mission in Liberia. It’s a senior post, providing valuable operational experience in a UN mission. But with the AFP’s departure from South Sudan earlier this year, Hinds is one of only 16 AFP personnel serving in UN peacekeeping missions (the other personnel are deployed to Cyprus).

As Bishop noted in her remarks to the Council, ‘Australia has invested heavily in international police peacekeeping’. The AFP continues to do so in our immediate region, but our engagement in UN missions globally is limited. At the same time, the threats UN police peacekeepers are required to confront—terrorism and transnational organised crime—are increasingly global in nature.

The adoption of resolution 2185 on policing is a milestone achievement. It’ll be a legacy of Australia’s Council term and will build on efforts to improve the overall effectiveness of police in peacekeeping. It’s also timely given the current strategic review of peacekeeping operations and special political missions. But like all resolutions, its success will ultimately depend on implementation. Ongoing engagement by experienced police-contributing countries, such as Australia, will be important to those efforts.

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

A big boat doesn’t equal amphibious capability

The largest ship ever built for the Royal Australian Navy, Landing Helicopter Dock NUSHIP Canberra, passes through Sydney Heads for the first time. She will be commissioned into the RAN as HMAS Canberra. Today’s a great day for the Royal Australian Navy  and the Australian Defence Force. It marks the commissioning of that $1.5 billion, 27,800-tonne behemoth soon to be known as the HMAS Canberra. But as much as I hate to rain on this parade, Australia is still some time and many tough decisions away from true amphibious warfare capability. The ship is just a ‘host’ that enables the capability. Political and military leaders will need to take a  two-year appetite suppressant to consider organisational changes and the purchase of additional equipment. When the party on Garden Island ends tonight, the real work continues.

The ADF’s stated goal is to have an Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) capability by 2017. That might sound like plenty of time. But amphibious operations involve a complex and dangerous choreography and the seamless integration of joint military services. World-class amphibious players develop over decades. The US, UK, France and others have joint organisations consisting of service units dedicated solely to this kind of operation and have built an organisational culture around them. Amphibious warfare is a truly joint enterprise, requiring diligent and detailed integration of the three services.

The ADF is driven by the individual services and lacks the organisational mechanisms and culture for joint capability development. It will have to overcome those internal obstacles to get from naming a really big boat to conducting amphibious manoeuvres under non-permissive conditions. Here are a few issues to be addressed.

The LHD is a helicopter-centric ship. Its flight deck is big, but its dock is small compared to US or UK amphibious ships, and it will normally carry only four small landing craft. But the landing-force order of battle is vehicle-centric.  Will the Land 400 program include the purchase of vehicles that can swim or that are light enough to be lifted by helicopters in order to relieve strain on the ship’s limited landing craft?

The current landing-force vehicles weren’t designed for wading and can tolerate only about two feet of water. That could be ameliorated by a beach recovery-vehicle to drag drowned vehicles ashore and push off stuck landing craft but the ADF hasn’t got any of those. A large hovercraft could potentially eliminate the problem altogether but Canberra’s dock is the wrong type for those.

If Australia is to achieve its stated capability goals, it’ll need to have someone with sufficient authority to champion the cause when it clashes with perceived single-service interests. At present, the Joint Capability Authority has a coordinating role only and actually doesn’t manage any capabilities or major procurement programs.

Then there are helicopters. The HMAS Canberra is apparently capable of holding 18 helicopters (depending on the type of helicopter). Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as placing a helicopter on a ship. Twenty years ago, the US Army found that out the hard way when it placed helicopters on two US aircraft carriers for Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti. Most of those helicopters had to be junked after the operation because they weren’t properly ‘marinised’.

Of course, there are degrees of marinisation. While there has been much criticism of the Army’s MRH-90 model helicopters, those aircraft were chosen largely because they were deemed to be better for amphibious operations. Key features like their composite frame (which doesn’t corrode) and blade brakes make them more conducive to operations at sea. But an ANAO audit recently noted that the MRH90 aircraft ‘has metal parts that corrode, ranging from rivets in the tail assembly to complex assemblies in the landing gear, engine and transmission’. Additionally, the aircraft lacks automatically-collapsible blades, making flight deck evolutions slower and inherently more dangerous, potentially halving the force projection rate. The ARH-90  wasn’t designed to go to sea and will present all these problems plus some more of its own.

Finally, there’ll be support force and enabler issues. The ADF has already dedicated 2 RAR as its amphibious infantry force. But deep amphibious expertise is needed in supporting arms and services, notably intelligence, logistics, aviation, and engineering. The present intent is to draw those from non-specialist brigades as required.  The current Plan ‘Beersheba’ will see them rotate out of that role every year (say it isn’t so).

These issues aren’t showstoppers, but coming up with solutions, techniques, and procedures to mitigate them inside two years will require an intense effort. It means prioritising resources and training and that will inevitably have impacts elsewhere. Whether the individual services are willing to accept those impacts will be the true test of whether the ADF is serious about its amphibious capability.

Yes, the boat is impressive. But it’ll be the teamwork, sacrifice, and leadership needed to build a real amphibious capability that will truly impress. If Australia’s leaders try to use this capability before it’s properly prepared, the results will be disappointing. Fixing some organisational deficiencies and giving more attention to the capability associated with this project will help.

Lieutenant Colonel Jan K. Gleiman is an active duty US Army officer and a visiting fellow at ASPI from United States Pacific Command. These are his personal views. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Australia as a ‘top 20’ power: balance, interests and responsibilities

FishIn wrapping up the Strategist debate on Australia as a ‘top 20’ defence power, I’d like to thank the other contributors for a fascinating exchange. Peter Jennings’ initial contribution drew a thoughtful response from Andrew Carr, and the series unfolded from there. Contributions from John Blaxland, Nic Stuart, Peter Dean, and Andrew Smith subsequently helped to illuminate the shape of the battlefield. Looking back over the contributions, the core difference that emerges is the one between regionalists and globalists. Carr, Blaxland and Dean are regionalists. Jennings and I are globalists. I think Smith’s a globalist by virtue of alliance. And Stuart’s got a foot in both camps.

I want to use this final post to talk about three things that seem to me to underpin the debate: the notion of ‘balance’ in our global and regional imperatives; Australia’s strategic interests; and the concept of international responsibility. Rolled together those factors become something like an exploration of Australian strategic identity.

Several contributors mentioned the need for Australia to strike a balance between its global and regional roles. I think that’s an important point. But I don’t think past Defence White Papers have been good at setting the balance between the near and the far in Australian strategic thinking. The layered concentric-circles model is structurally biased, because the circles lead ever downhill, emphasising a supposed declining interest in the more distant ‘issues of strategic concern’—to use Peter Dean’s phrase—and a strategic prioritisation on ‘fundamental issues’ close to home. The concentric-circles model doesn’t help us strike a balance; indeed, it doesn’t even pretend to be interested in the concept of balance. If we want to do some balancing between near and far, then we need a different way to think about Australian strategy.

As I wrote in an earlier post, I think geopolitics should be seen as the key imperative in our more distant commitments: we don’t live on the Eurasian continent or along its rimlands, and that’s where the core of world order is set. We could be strong in our own neighbourhood, and there’s some merit in doing that: academic studies of war show that good relations with neighbours are an excellent starting point for a peaceful life. But we’d rule in the sandpit, and not play on the beach.

So I want to use the remainder of this post to talk about interests and responsibilities—because either factor might underpin a stronger notion of balance than mere geography does. If we ask ourselves where we have strategic interests and responsibilities in the world, then it strikes me that we can answer that question differently at different times. We can’t answer a question about geography differently at different times. In both world wars, for example, we had interests in not sitting out a global struggle that could determine the fate of democracies, even when those struggles were a long way away. Similarly, we might say we had a responsibility not to sit them out.

So, interests. Where do our strategic interests begin? I think all our contributors accept that Australia has global interests; where they differ is over how much and what sort of effort they think we should devote to protecting them. Peter Dean argues that we should pursue them primarily via diplomacy. I’ve argued before that we should make better use of the political arm of policy and not think about strategy in exclusively military terms. And, in fact, Australians are much more accustomed to globally-active foreign ministers than globally-active defence ministers. But diplomacy only gets us so far; I don’t think parachuting Julie Bishop into Iraq is going to solve that problem for us.

John Blaxland thinks we should make niche contributions to distant engagements, à la previous DWPs, and not be sucked into a Middle-Eastern vortex of ill-defined objectives. Again, there’s something to be said for a calibrated deployment to a distant battlefield—but only if it gives you what you want. For too long what we’ve wanted is Washington’s attention, not military victory. G20 countries shouldn’t fawn to get attention. Peter Jennings favours our fronting up to global problems, including with appropriate levels of military engagement. Some will ask ‘what’s the appropriate level?’ Good question—it certainly isn’t self-defining. Wars against revisionist great powers fall into a unique category, but we can and should debate our other commitments—in terms of our interests and responsibilities.

Finally, a few words on responsibilities. Do powerful countries have greater responsibilities than weaker ones? Well, hegemons typically have responsibility for the orders they create. But the push for Australia to do more isn’t just coming from Washington. If we look at the recent statements by Abe, Cameron, Xi, Obama, and Modi, several of the bigger G20 players seem to be asking us to do more. I don’t believe a benighted world awaits the Aussie enlightenment. But I do think with power comes responsibility, and our responsibilities run wider than being the big fish in a small pond.

Rod Lyon is a fellow at ASPI and executive editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker.

Solomon Islands: the freest and fairest election money could buy?

To lead is to serve

Last week, as Australians focused on visits by the leaders of two large countries that will help shape our long-term strategic environment, a small country that forms part of that environment faced a more immediate test with its first national election since the departure of the military component of RAMSI.

I was fortunate to spend a fortnight with the Solomons election-monitoring mission run by the ANU’s State Society and Governance in Melanesia Program (SSGM) and Centre for Democratic Institutions (CDI). Detailed findings of its close study of a dozen electorates will be out soon (see the conclusions of similar studies of PNG’s 2012 election here) but in the meantime let me offer some personal impressions.

Although the 50 elected MPs are still negotiating who’ll be prime minister and in cabinet, and previous such manoeuvrings have sometimes triggered public disorder, most signs suggest these horse-trading and formation-of-Government processes will remain largely peaceful. And while 90 additional Australian, NZ, and Pacific police were brought in to bolster the RAMSI Participating Police Force, they’ve been deliberately held in the background—with the Commonwealth Observer Group commending the security arrangements planned and executed by Solomons Police.

Other organisational aspects of this ninth election since Independence in 1978 worked pretty well too. In particular, it was the first to use a biometric registration system (provided by the same company that prepared the rolls for Fiji’s recent election). Past claims of multiple-voting have probably been exaggerated, but both anecdotal accounts and the high percentage of the voting-age population who’d previously cast ballots suggest they weren’t entirely fictitious. The biometric system was expensive, but popular, and contributed to the poll’s credibility with voters.

Less encouragingly, although most non-incumbent candidates (and many incumbents) campaigned on a ‘time-for-change’ platform, there’s little sign of movement beyond Solomons politics-as-normal. While we’ll have to wait to see whether ANU’s survey data confirms my hunch that there was less voter intimidation, I’m fairly confident money-politics increased across the board. Nor, apparently, has the composition of those elected changed much. True, Prime Minister Lilo lost his seat. But the number of incumbents returned actually grew from around half to 70%, with analysts attributing that growth to the scale and timing of sitting MPs releasing their discretionary Constituency Development Funds and other monies. Again, only one of the 26 women who contested was elected. And the new Political Parties Integrity Act, intended to stabilise parliamentary politics, hardly had any impact on the way candidates campaigned or voters voted.

None of that will surprise those familiar with the Solomons’ acutely clientelistic political culture. But, the results may further deepen a seemingly intractable cycle of electoral politics whereby rational choices by voters seeking MPs’ personal assistance contribute to poor governance and reinforce those choices in turn. And they mean last week’s good electoral process won’t necessarily deliver the good government the country urgently needs. The problem isn’t so much that leaders and voters don’t take seriously the national motto—‘to lead is to serve’—but rather that they do so at a profoundly local rather than national level. It might be unfair to condemn candidates’ provision of solar panels, roofing iron, school fees, or small-scale water and sanitation projects to constituents as merely ‘frittering away’ national wealth, since such help can be of real benefit to the poor. But the seemingly vast SI $6 million available to each MP (often supplemented by income from business favours, and sometimes allegedly from corruption or theft) only translates to about A$50 per citizen each year—not enough to be individually transformative but cumulatively enough to sap state funding for roads, schools, and hospitals.

If that seems an overly gloomy take on last week and the country’s prospects, it probably is. We saw some successful candidates speak passionately, persuasively and apparently sincerely about national issues, even as they vigorously transacted the sub-local hustle necessary to have a shot at winning. The low priority attached to policy issues doesn’t mean there’s no national consciousness. And we should keep in mind that it’s only a decade since Solomon Islands emerged from a debilitating conflict that claimed 250 lives and caused near state-failure. The possibility politicians could again stir up rowdy protests, property destruction, and opportunistic or targeted looting doesn’t detract from the fact a return to nation-rending ethnic violence is unlikely.

In this context and given our interest in regional stability, it’ll remain worthwhile to ‘hold the window of democratic space open’ for local solutions to emerge over time. That’s partly a matter of preserving the security backstop currently provided by RAMSI police in some form, depending on the next Solomons government and Canberra’s assessment/funding from 2017. But, increasingly, it’ll also mean using energy, infrastructure, and governance enablers—including elections support—to help spur enough of an economic take-off to keep pace with population growth, land pressure, and social change.

Karl Claxton is an analyst at ASPI. Image courtesy of Karl Claxton.

Thinking about the future

The topic I was given at the recent Submarine Institute of Australia conference was ‘The Strategic Environment in the period 2020-2050’. That gave me a chance to reprise in part a lecture I gave in 2010 at the Australian National University, when I was asked to prognosticate about the Asian security environment in 2050.

As Neils Bohr is reputed to have said, prediction is difficult, especially about the future. (He was half right, as we’ll see below.) But at least this was a topic on which I wasn’t handicapped by any pretence of being an expert, which would’ve increased my chances of being wrong. So I started off thinking about the lessons of history; how I would’ve done had I been asked in 1910 to talk about the European security environment in 1950. I would’ve started with the status quo; in 1910, the major powers would be those in the first column of the table below.

In 1910, I’d know about aeroplanes and submarines—and the experts of the time would assure me that while they’ll likely be of some marginal utility in warfare, they’ll be unlikely to replace, or even seriously rival, tried and tested military systems such as the newly commissioned HMS Dreadnought. And I’d know about the political and economic theory of Marx and Engels. But even if I read widely, I’d have no way of knowing about the atomic nucleus, the discovery of which was announced by Rutherford a year later.

By 1950, the power structure of Europe looked like the second column of the table, and the USA and USSR—the latter now firmly a communist state—were both nuclear powers. What had been a concert of European royal houses with complex and intertwined security guarantees and alliances had become a bipolar, politically charged nuclear-armed standoff. There’s no reasonable prospect of being able to predict a change of that sort—although H. G. Wells gave it a red hot go.

Table: Key European players and security relationships in 1910 and 1950



Austro-Hungarian Empire  United States
British Empire Soviet Union
France NATO
German Empire
Ottoman Empire (in decline)
(Tsarist) Russia

There are two notions we need to understand the transition between 1910 and 1950. The first is that extrapolation—the basis for many predictions—is likely to give an accurate prediction only up to a point of dislocation. That is, up to a major upheaval which fundamentally alters the strategic calculus and invalidates working assumptions. WWI certainly fits that description; the pre-war world, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist. The second important observation is that factors on which future developments might critically depend can be in the unknown category. (And of either the known or unknown variety.)

We also need to guard against hindsight bias when looking back in history for lessons about prediction. Knowing what happened, we can construct a narrative thread that links the Concert of Europe through WWI to the Treaty of Versailles, on to the collapse of the Weimar Republic, to the rise of National Socialism in Germany, and so on. There’s no shortage of arguments between historians about the details or the significance of individual events, but there’s (largely) a consensus about the causality.

But we’re only so ‘sure’ about that because those events actually happened. There’s no way to run counterfactual simulations to see what would’ve happened if some things had transpired differently. For example, we can speculate about the evolution of Europe after 1919 had the Versailles negotiations produced a less punishing outcome for Germany, but that’s all we can do. Alternative pasts are unknowable. Former US Defense Secretary and sometimes philosopher Donald Rumsfeld summed the situation up neatly with this observation:

I would not say that the future is necessarily less predictable than the past. I think the past was not predictable when it started.

So when we try to look forward to 2050, we do so with unwarranted confidence that we understand the causal patterns of the past. There might well be factors that will play a critical role in the future that we’re currently only dimly aware of or even can’t know now. It’s likely that any predictions made today—even by non-experts who’re more likely to be correct—will hold only up to the next dislocation. If we knew the chapter headings in the future history books, we’d be much better placed.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands and declare thinking about the future to be hopeless. Rather, any hedging or shaping strategies we come up with need to accept the limitations of prediction and contain enough flexibility to adapt when the unpredictable future becomes the (somewhat) less unpredictable past. You can read what I think that means for the future submarine program here.

Andrew Davies is senior analyst for defence capability and director of research at ASPI. Edited image courtesy of Flickr user Michael Heilemann.

For an expansion on the ideas in the post, see Known unknowns: uncertainty about the future of the Asia-Pacific by Andrew Davies and Mark Thomson.

Cyber wrap

South Korea is set to absorb its Cyber Command into its military apparatus over the next two months, formalising a decision taken earlier in the year to alter the focus of the organisation from the defensive protection of national infrastructure, to a more offensive, outward-focused mission. Previously, activities  of the national Cyber Command were classified as ‘administrative actions’. The government has now made the necessary alterations to the ‘Cyber Command Decree’ to transition control of the organisation to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), freeing up personnel to carry out military-like operations, primarily against the North.

South Korea isn’t the only country doing a spot of international hacking. Germany’s top domestic spy Hans Georg Maassen has told a cybersecurity conference in Berlin this week that of the 3,000 attacks experienced by government networks on average each day, at least five are the handiwork of foreign governments. Those sophisticated attacks are often traced to either Russia or China and are most frequent in the lead-up to major international events and negotiations such as the G20. He also explained that hackers were often after the ‘cutting-edge’ technology produced by German firms.

Maassen’s signals-intelligence counterpart across the Atlantic, NSA Chief Admiral Michael Rogers, also spoke publicly this week on the threat posed by foreign cyber attackers. Testifying to the House Intelligence Committee on threats posed to critical national infrastructures, Rogers was asked a series of questions surrounding the security of US critical national infrastructure:

There shouldn’t be any doubt in our minds that there are nation-states and groups out there that have the capability . . . to shut down, forestall our ability to operate our basic infrastructure, whether it’s generating power across this nation, whether it’s moving water and fuel.

He explained that ‘reconnaissance’ missions designed to map the layout of such systems and identify vulnerabilities had already been detected. The Admiral identified China as being among those countries he suspected of possessing the capability to carry out such an attack, but he also said there were ‘probably one or two others’, without elaborating.

Expanding on the Admiral’s comments, Jonathan Pollet has a good article that puts the issue of attacks against critical national infrastructure into perspective. He explains that since the US energy grid is owned and operated by hundreds of different companies with different software and security set-ups, trying to break into them all at once would be similar to ‘trying to rob a hundred different banks at the exact same time’.

The New Zealand Government is currently reviewing its National Cyber Policy Strategy, last updated in 2011. This week the head of the NZ Cyber Policy Office, Paul Ash, gave a sneak peek as to what to expect in a discussion with Radio New Zealand. He said the new strategy will refine the roles of those agencies involved with cyber, encourage public agencies to work with the private sector and generally call for a ‘net lift in effort, not just from the public sector but from private sector partners and others’. It’s a lead the Australian government would do well to follow.

Staying in the region a recent report has picked out Vietnam, India and Indonesia as the next big sources for DDoS attacks heading into the New Year. All three countries’ expanding but under-protected IT networks, and exploding smartphone use, coupled with lack of end-user awareness surrounding IT security, has led to the prediction of a botnet storm.

Finally Elina Noor has an excellent piece up at the New Straits Times calling for ASEAN to step up and play a greater role in shaping the cyber domain through groupings such as the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting. She argues that it’s in the region’s best interest to establish rules for online interaction based around an international legal framework and highlights the military domain as a key starting point.

Jessica Woodall is an analyst in ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre. Image courtesy of Flickr user Alejandro Juárez.

Jokowi’s waves of opportunity

Following a successful boarding exercise, HMAS Maryborough's Petty Officer Bosun Michael Cunnington, is assisted by an Indonesian sailor at the completion of a boarding exercise with Indonesian Warship KRI Wiratno during the first Australian-Indonesian Coordinated Patrol.Today ASPI has released Waves of opportunity: Enhancing Australia–Indonesia maritime security cooperation. The full report can be found here [PDF].

At the recent East Asia Summit (EAS), Indonesia’s President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo spoke about Indonesia’s new maritime doctrine, the ‘World Maritime Axis’ concept. But what does that mean? Some criticise the term for its negative connotations, as in ‘axis powers’, or ‘axis of evil’. Perhaps it’s more apt to describe it as a ‘pivot’, as the US ‘rebalance’ used to be termed.

The World Maritime Axis highlights that ‘the sea is becoming more important for our future’, wrote Jokowi. Indonesia is increasingly aware of its central location along the sea lanes that connect two strategic oceans, the Indian and Pacific. Hence, Jakarta has warmly embraced the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ not only as diplomatic jargon [PDF], but as strategic comprehension.

But the important shift isn’t just maritime. Rather, it’s how Indonesia views its surrounding geography. Indonesia has traditionally looked north and east toward the Pacific, for economic, diplomatic and strategic reasons in its engagements with ASEAN and the major powers, including the US. The World Maritime Axis aims to give greater attention to the less-understood, but no less important, Indian Ocean in Jakarta’s mental map [PDF].

That brings Australia (and India) into the equation. The Indian Ocean, including the Timor Sea, has been known as a sea of troubles due to challenges ranging from people smuggling and illegal fishing, to more strategic Chinese submarine forays and the security of its maritime choke-points—including the Malacca, Sunda, and Lombok Straits. No countries are better poised to address challenges to those vital waterways than Australia and Indonesia [PDF].

Maritime security cooperation can therefore support some, if not all, of the five pillars of the World Maritime Axis concept: rebuilding the maritime culture; enhancing the maritime economy (especially the fishing industry); improving maritime infrastructure and connectivity (through the ‘sea highway’ proposal); engaging in maritime diplomacy (such as the chairmanship of IORA); and strengthening maritime defence.

First, trust must be built between policymakers. Cooperation can be both a way to build and maintain trust and an end in itself. Trust-building can start from personal ties between policymakers at both strategic and operational/tactical levels to underpin the formal consultative and dialogue processes, such as the Indonesia-Australia Defence Strategic Dialogue, annual leaders’ meeting, and the 2+2 foreign and defence ministers’ meeting. Institutionalising personal ties, such as those facilitated by the Ikatan Alumni Pertahanan Indonesia-Australia (IKAHAN), is useful but could be more so if expanded to include civilian counterparts, such as law-enforcement officials. With trust anything is possible. Both countries could discuss their individual—and potentially their collective—plans to prevent or counter the threat of force in territorial disputes, such as in the South China Sea.

Second, there’s an apparent need to streamline institutional stove-piping and bureaucracies responsible for cooperation. Cooperation currently takes a siloed form: each agency responsible does its own thing. The problem partly lies in Indonesia’s multiple, but poorly coordinated, maritime-security agencies. The Badan Koordinasi Keamanan Laut (Maritime Security Coordinating Agency, BAKORKAMLA) is supposedly responsible for coordinating 12 agencies. But competition among some of them has stymied operations and precipitated turf battles. As such, BAKORKAMLA will soon become the Badan Keamanan Laut (Maritime Security Agency, BAKAMLA) as Indonesia’s new Coastguard so that it can gain a command authority. Even then, overlaps and duplication of roles will still exist. Under National Law No. 32/2014 on Marine Affairs, BAKAMLA would be responsible for patrols, search and rescue, and law enforcement, similar to other agencies such as Marine Police and Transport Ministry’s Sea and Coast Guard Unit (KPLP). That necessitates major legal and institutional reforms. The formation of the Australian Border Force (ABF) [PDF] next year could give Indonesia useful insights on the Australian experience in streamlining multiple agencies responsible for maritime security.

Third, while Indonesia still lacks the capacity to secure its waters effectively, Australian assistance needs to be recalibrated. Rather than giving hardware assets, assistance should be aimed toward improving Indonesia’s maritime security policymaking and assisting Indonesia to contribute more in regional maritime security. Australia can offer education and training opportunities for BAKAMLA’s officials, while simultaneously planning for future BAKAMLA-ABF exercises. Such training could be jointly conducted in other countries, such as Timor-Leste [PDF].

Fourth, the ultimate achievement of security cooperation should be maritime domain awareness (MDA) along the maritime boundary. MDA is essentially a comprehensive understanding about what’s happening over, on, and under the sea and along the littoral. Australia has voiced support for Indonesia’s National Maritime Security Information Center. That Center could support surveillance and information-sharing cooperation between Australia and Indonesia.

Finally, Indonesia can engage in joint tri-service military exercises with Australia, both to increase interoperability and to make our two armed forces more comfortable about working together in a joint environment. Submarine search and rescue might be another opportunity to add weight to bilateral cooperation.

Notwithstanding those opportunities, old problems remain and new ones can arise. For Indonesia, it remains to be seen whether the President can promote his ideas beyond the circle of advisers and ministers. He must convince the skeptics in the parliament, the bureaucracy, and the public that the World Maritime Axis concept is indeed what Indonesia needs to navigate the Indo-Pacific century.

Ristian Atriandi Supriyanto is an associate research fellow in the RSIS Maritime Security Programme and author of Waves of opportunity: Enhancing Australia–Indonesia maritime security cooperationImage courtesy of Department of Defence.

LHD and F-35B: the debate opens up

Marine Corps Joint Strike Fighter F-35B on a test flight on the Patuxent River, Maryland.Debate over the possibility of operating F-35B aircraft from the Canberra LHDs has opened up—a good thing. This post offers technical and tactical thoughts to stimulate the debate and challenge recent assertions.

The feasibility of acquiring an F-35B/LHD capability is a key issue. Some assert that it’d be highly complex, take the ships out of service for long periods, cost $500 million, and require decades to achieve. Those assertions massively overstate the problems and ignore a plethora of inconvenient facts.

The Canberras retain the essential capability of the ‘Juan Carlos I’ design, including features that support the F-35B. They have air traffic control facilities for helicopter operations, which would support STOVL, although an additional lighting system may be required for bad weather operations. The F-35B wouldn’t require large ‘specialised’ maintenance facilities to be built into the ship, although adaptation of existing spaces might be required. The Canberras have enough fuel to support F-35Bs, and large weapons magazines. Claims to the contrary are incorrect.

Flight-deck heating issues are consistently overstated. Heat-resistant coatings might be required, but are easily applied. Other measures such as a ‘creeping’ vertical landing would further alleviate what’s already a minor issue.

The bottom line? Operating the F-35B from LHDs is technically feasible and well within the capability of the ADF. It wouldn’t be free, but nor would it break the bank.

Turning to strategic aspects, the laws of operational physics mean that the closer an aircraft is to target, the greater its effect. In many scenarios an LHD could get F-35s far closer to a theatre of operations than is possible by using far distant land bases. In many scenarios, it’d be the only option.

Some argue that land bases and overflight permissions will always be available. A recent ASPI paper states: ‘the ADF would reasonably expect to be able to operate land-based aircraft from the country whose on defensive efforts Australia would be supporting, or with whom we could come under common attack’ and ‘it’s prudent to assume that the [RAAF] would have access to land bases … to make a contribution to a future coalition air campaign’. Such statements must be challenged: unpredictable regional politics can, have and will trump ‘reasonable expectations’ and ‘prudent assumptions’. In fact, denial of host nation support happens frequently.

Malta denied use of its airfields in 2011 for the Libya campaign, and France, Spain and Italy all denied use of air-space for US air strikes on Libya in 1986. In both those cases, sea-based aircraft provided critical support to the campaigns. Recently, Turkey has refused use of its bases for strike aircraft—which the ASPI paper acknowledges but argues unconvincingly has been overcome by basing aircraft hundreds of miles further away in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. It surprisingly fails to mention that ship-based aircraft are executing a significant part of the air campaign. Again.

Withdrawal of host nation support leads to long-range operations and those have inherent limitations. Massive and expensive resources, particularly tankers and fuel, are required to generate relatively modest levels of ‘air’ over the distant target area. They also display the risky phenomenon of ‘scheduled war’, with air operations planned in detail over 48 hours in advance. The IS campaign shows that hands a useful advantage to enemy forces who can and do quickly change the situation on the ground.

An LHD/F-35B capability becomes even more important where the fight could threaten ADF deployed surface task groups. Lack of an organic fixed-wing air-defence capability and reliance on ship-based missiles and distant land-based air cover would be highly risky, given developing levels of maritime strike available to potential regional adversaries.

Maritime nations have repeatedly used sea-based aircraft to support land-based aircraft or to provide air power where land-based aircraft couldn’t. Some nations have achieved this more than others—every aircraft shot down by the UK since 1945 has fallen to embarked aircraft. Given the maritime geography of SE Asia and the South Pacific, the ADF can’t afford to ignore those lessons. A mixed fleet of 100 A and B F-35 variants, with F-35Bs able to operate from both land and sea, would give the ADF a much-enhanced capability to bring decisive air power to bear quickly as, where and when required. An LHD/F-35B capability would also fall neatly within the aims of Plan Jericho, providing the ADF with an opportunity to integrate and exploit the advanced information-gathering and distribution systems of the F-35 and the RAN surface fleet and RAAF Wedgetails and Poseidons.

There’s a long way to go with the LHD/F-35B debate, and it’s important that decisions are based on experience, knowledge and fact, not assertions and dogma. To this end, ASPI’s suggestion that ‘the government should get an independent assessment of the potential costs and risks’ is both a sensible and a timely one.

Steve George was an air engineer officer in the Royal Navy for 28 years, and served in HMS Invincible during the 1982 Falklands operation. During his career, he was closely involved with the Sea Harrier, and also with joint RN/RAF Harrier operations. Retiring from the RN as a Commander, he joined the JSF programme to work on F-35B ship suitability. He is now an engineering consultant. Image courtesy of Flickr user Marines.

The US and Australian strategy

TensionThe recent debate in these pages on how Australia should think and act as a power in the international system is important and timely. The thoughtful contributions of Peter Jennings, Andrew Carr, Rod Lyon, John Blaxland, Nic Stuart and Peter Dean argue well the emerging regionalist and globalist schools of strategic thought. A true historian, John rightly points out the wise regionalist continuities in our strategic policy, traceable through defence white papers and actual commitments since the 1970s. But another important continuity is the centrality of the US alliance to Australia’s defence policy. This is timely, because the US is struggling now to determine how it will play its accustomed global power role going forward. Whatever it decides, it’s clear that the hard power that has made the US an effective steward of that system since the Second World War is no longer guaranteed. To the extent that Australia’s strategy relies on US power, that should concern us.

Peter Jennings has earlier discussed the value of hard power in general and of US hard power, judiciously applied, in particular. Andrew Carr acknowledges the importance of that power to Australia. But a health check on American military power, including recent messages from the US national security community, renders a worrying prognosis. Read more

Recent traffic in Washington suggests that the greatest challenge to US military power in the future is the uncertain defence budgetary situation. That’s driven by a fiscal and political environment best exemplified by the bizarre 2011 Budget Control Act, which imposed heavy government spending cuts compounded by ‘sequestration’—additional, mandatory, across-the-board cuts triggered by Congressional failure to find alternative savings, which has been inevitable in Washington’s current political environment. The calamitous impact of sequestration and the urgent need to end it are the loudest, most consistent and most bipartisan message coming from the national security elite, usefully articulated last week by Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work. But although sequestration is unanimously condemned in national security circles, there’s little optimism in Washington that the necessary budgetary conditions will return soon. Many expect DoD to be operating under sequestration for years. Consequently, ‘affordability’ is now the driving mantra of US defence capability.

That situation has not emerged suddenly, and DoD has been working ‘to do more without more’. For example, Under-Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Frank Kendall, has been steadily implementing his Better Buying Power initiative to reform a clunky US defence acquisition apparatus that some consider a national security threat in its own right. Many ideas are common sense, but some foreshadow a new reality in which the US has less military power available at short notice: for example, a proposal to buy and build fewer major platforms (such as ships and aircraft) up-front and to rely on rapid manufacture to produce more quickly when needed; and to keep new technology and designs ‘on the shelf’ until the strategic situation justifies their acquisition.

Science and technology investment is also emphasising affordability, deliberately swinging away from traditional ‘monolithic’ platform-based approaches and towards experimentation and information-based solutions to reduce development costs and accelerate capability upgrades. Sustaining S&T investment is a key challenge for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who recently announced a contemporary version of the ‘Technological Offset’ campaign by which the US overcame Soviet numerical superiority from the 1970s.

But these measures bring second-order risks, not least that of a shrinking and less busy defence industrial base. For example, recently there’ve been warnings of a loss of naval shipyards under current funding plans, while the uncertainty of defence business may be making industry both less competitive and less interested in supplying DoD. While the protective power of pork-barrelling in US politics shouldn’t be underestimated, lost industrial capacity is a real possibility that’d make just-in-time purchases both riskier and pricier. And in areas where DoD would prefer to save money, such as by reducing personnel costs or shedding surplus infrastructure, Congress sometimes prevents it from doing so.

DoD faces many other challenges in meeting America’s defence needs. While it seems to understand the totality of the problem, a solution isn’t guaranteed in the current political environment. There’s a real possibility that, soon, the US will be facing its global responsibilities with considerably less military capacity on hand.

That’s an issue for Australia as long as the US alliance is a key pillar of our defence strategy. And that’s unlikely to change soon, whether that strategy is regionalist or globalist. As Rod Lyon points out, we have strategic interests that we alone haven’t the means to secure and must work with others to do so. For the foreseeable future, the US will be the principal ‘other’ and we must factor that into our strategy, and help America where we can.

Andrew Smith is a consultant and independent researcher based in the United States. Image courtesy of Flickr user Francis Mariani.

Unchaining the dragon: China’s possible counterstrategies to a US oil blockade

Oil tankersIs it viable for the United States to impose a naval blockade against China in a potential conflict? That’s a critical question in the study of China’s maritime and energy strategies.

China’s crude oil dependence is obviously the key variable determining the success and failure of a blockade. Although China can produce many of its vital goods, such as grain and coal, in 2013 China imported 64.5% of its crude oil consumption. Oil-based liquid fuels, such as gasoline and diesel, are vital for vehicles. And an overwhelming proportion of China’s crude oil imports—with the exception of imports from Russia and Kazakhstan—rely on seaborne transportation.

But China’s reliance on seaborne oil imports isn’t matched by its naval capability. It doesn’t have overseas bases to support regular operations in distant regions. By contrast, the US Navy not only possesses formidable ocean-going capabilities, but also quantitative and technological advantages. That asymmetry between China’s high level of reliance on seaborne oil imports and its low level of naval capability to protect those imports means the US Navy could successfully interdict China’s seaborne oil trade. Read more

Although China’s concern about a US blockade is often mentioned, few studies have attempted to provide a quantitative estimate of the consequence of a blockade. Using the inverse formula of energy intensity, drawing on statistics published by British Petroleum and the US Energy Information Administration, I produced a preliminary estimate that an energy blockade cutting off all 87% of oil imports that came by sea (that is, rather than overland or by river) would cause a direct reduction of 6.6% to the Chinese GDP (as measured by purchasing power parities), a figure equivalent to the size of the Australian economy. The indirect damage of a blockade in terms of reducing commercial/industrial efficiency would likely be even more serious. Therefore, I found a naval blockade could produce economic devastation and consequently a viable strategy for the US in a conflict with China.

Having concluded that the potential threat of oil blockade is serious, I then investigated the effectiveness of China’s counterstrategies to such hypothetical threat. I classify China’s counterstrategies to a US oil blockade into two categories: vulnerability-reduction strategies aiming at the protection of oil supply; and conflict-prevention strategies aiming at the avoidance of US blockade via the prevention of conflict with the US.

The two most discussed vulnerability-reduction strategies are the development of the PLA Navy to safeguard the seaborne oil imports and the construction of overland oil pipelines. But because of the large volume of China’s oil imports, and the distance between China and the oil producers in the Middle East, naval convoys would hardly be practical as a means for ensuring secure supply. A hundred-ship oil convoy, either during its 35 day trip, or during its fuelling and refueling, is an easy target for air/missile/submarine attack. Likewise, thousand-mile pipelines connecting China with Russia and Kazakhstan could be cut off by a single air strike. The protection of pipelines is virtually impossible. And complex oil refineries—difficult to rebuild—could also be targeted. Thus, I conclude that vulnerability-reduction approaches are costly and largely ineffective.

Nevertheless, it‘s more realistic for China to seek conflict-prevention strategies to counter a possible US blockade. There are many ways to prevent conflict with the US. For example, there can be ‘soft’ conflict-prevention strategies, such as diplomatic reassurance, and inter-military exchange programs. The key dilemma is that the pursuit of conflict prevention mustn’t hamper Beijing’s core security interests. In this sense, ‘hard’ conflict-prevention approaches—especially more robust nuclear deterrence—might be an essential part of conflict prevention.

Because most contemporary US ‘war-winning’ strategies, including AirSea Battle and naval blockade, aim at capitalising on US conventional advantage, they downplay the ‘unwinnable’ nuclear war. The US can conceptualise a conventional war with China because China, with a much smaller nuclear force can’t initiate nuclear exchange in a war with the US. China needs to transform its strategic nuclear force from one of minimal sole-purpose deterrence to a more robust multi-purpose deterrence. A robust Chinese nuclear deterrence could contribute to war prevention by replacing the option of ‘winnable conventional war’ with ‘unwinnable nuclear war’. But, in order to construct a nuclear deterrence sufficiently robust to deter the US from engaging in a conflict with China, Beijing must make two major changes: it must renounce its No-First-Use declaration, and build up a strategic nuclear force more comparable to that of the US.

Xunchao Zhang is a student from the PRC who studies at the ANU. Earlier this year he was an intern at the Sea Power Centre-Australia. Image courtesy of Flickr user Pieter Van Marion.

Australia and the illusion of being a G20 Power

ReachPeter Jennings is right. Australia is a G20 power and has global interests. But those facts must be set alongside others, not so encouraging, that relate to Australia’s position on the global stage.   In all likelihood Australia has reached its economic peak when it comes to the league tables of global economic weight. Coming in at number 12 in 2014, Australia’s performance to reach those lofty heights has been nothing short of exceptional. That position and its corresponding economic clout make Australia a major world economic player. Australia’s high wages and high standard of living, its extensive social safety-net, world-class health and education systems, strong financial sector and dependable economic performance make it the envy of many in the world.

But those strengths are tempered by its small—and ageing—population (less than one-third of the UK’s, about one-fifth of the Philippines’, approximately one-quarter of Vietnam’s and less than one-tenth of Indonesia’s), its limited infrastructure, budget deficits and political division over a reform agenda. While Australia avoided the worst of the GFC it has poor productivity and its global competitiveness has been slipping since 2009. Its relative position vis-a-vis ‘rising’ countries in the region and around the globe means Australia’s economic standing will only come under more pressure in the future. Time is also not on our side. Read more

Indonesia is projected to have the 10th largest economy in the world by 2030 (some even argue 7th largest), when its GDP will be twice Australia’s. Those vying for Australia’s position on the economic league tables also include the Republic of Korea, Spain, Mexico, and Turkey. Moreover, there’s little likelihood that Australia will be clawing its way up the G20 rankings. There’s a big difference between being in the bottom half of the G20 and being in the G8, the G4 or the G2. The G2’s combined economic clout is equal to the next nine largest economies in the world in 2014. So while Australia will remain a major economic player for some years to come—and potentially for much longer given the difficulties of managing sustained growth in emerging economies—in the end we’re a middle power, with some small-power pretensions.

So our G20 status needs to be kept in perspective and we need to recognise that in coming decades it’s highly probable our weight, significance and power both globally and regionally will decline. That’s hardly a strong platform for carving out a strategy of global focus and reach.

Still, Peter’s right to claim that Australia has global interests—in this highly-interconnected world most countries do. In order to promote and protect those interests Australia should continue to have a global edge to its foreign policy. It should continue to use its diplomatic skills and weight through multilateral institutions, bilateral relations, its alliance with the United States and its security partnerships in the region and beyond to further its interests.

But no country in the G20, beyond the US, is truly a global power. Like Australia, the rest pursue global interests but prioritise their strategic policy on areas much closer to home. While as Peter states ‘the UK, France, and Germany … don’t argue that their strategic interests stop at the Atlantic’, they also don’t structure their forces for operations in the East or South China Seas. I don’t see Brazil flying fighters in Iraq or putting ‘boots on the ground’ in the fight against ISIS, and while Japan is in the process of reinterpreting its constitution to allow the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to work alongside other militaries that’s hardly because its focus is on Africa or the Middle East.

A regional focus to Australia’s strategic policy is hardly an indicator of a ‘geopolitical cringe perspective’. Rather it’s a practical recognition of the difference between Australia’s fundamental strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific, especially in the South Pacific and Southeast Asia, and issues of strategic concern such as global terrorism, Iraq and the Middle East. Such an approach is also a reflection of the difference between Australia’s ability to use diplomacy on the global stage on one hand, and, on the other, the limits on its ability to use armed force in international affairs to achieve its strategic objectives. As the 2013 White Paper states, Australia must be cognisant in relation to its support for global security of the ‘limits of our capacity, given the priority of our other tasks’.

As I’ve noted elsewhere on The Strategist, that’s not to deny that Australia has interests in places outside the immediate region. But throughout its history Australia’s commitment of military force to regions such as the Middle East has always been dependent on a stable Asia-Pacific, one largely devoid of tension and major strategic competition—and that’s clearly no longer the case.

If it’s time, as Peter claims, for a ‘grown up’ discussion of Australia’s foreign and defence policy then surely one of our first calculations must be the limit of our power and reach. Otherwise Australia will end up with a strategic policy where it’s living well beyond both its means and capabilities.

Peter Dean is a fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the ANU, and one of the editors of Australia’s Defence: Towards a New Era, published by Melbourne University Press in 2014. Image courtesy of Flickr user Brett Sayer.

If not jump jets, how about unmanned aerial vehicles?

A prototype unmanned combat aircraft of the future, Taranis, has been unveiled by the MODIn their latest post, ‘Jump jets’ for the ADF?’, Richard Brabin-Smith and Benjamin Schreer argue that the next Defence White Paper should not consider procuring the F-35B, the Vertical Take Off and Landing version of the Joint Strike Fighter. They cogently outline their cost-benefit analysis on why the F-35B doesn’t stack up for Australia but they fail to take the next step: consider the viability of alternate options for increasing the ADF’s capability to employ persistent close air support, airborne intelligence and electronic warfare options in Defence of Australia and expeditionary operations in the region’s archipelagic environment. The improving capability of maritime unmanned aerial vehicles could address a major capability gap within the ADF’s portfolio and significantly enhance military response options for the Australian government into the future.

As Brabin-Smith and Schreer rightly point out, the Canberra Class Landing Helicopter Docks (LHDs) are multi-purpose amphibious assault ships and as such represent a major improvement in the ADF’s ability to project force in the region. For the government, the LHD provides a platform from which they can launch a number of force packages; from combined arms battle groups through to reconstruction and medical response teams, and everything in between. What the ADF doesn’t have to support the transit of these maritime task groups is an armed fixed-wing airborne platform that can operate from the LHD to support maritime and landing forces with fires, intelligence and electronic warfare. While the F-35 will provide the ADF these functions, its level of persistence remains unknown. This is because its combat range is limited by the location of appropriate basing options. So what’s the alternative? Maritime unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV) is one option worthy of consideration. Read more

For the ADF, the introduction of armed and reconnaissance unmanned aerial capabilities that are able to operate from northern Australia, the LHD and/or austere air bases across the region will provide a significant combat multiplier. Importantly, it also increases the options available to government in responding to crises. Persistent intelligence, surveillance and fire support will be essential in the operating environment envisaged by the Australian Army’s Future Land Warfare Report, in which even the most basic adversary could have access to highly-lethal mobile platforms. While Brabin-Smith and Schreer rightly note the limitations and costs of the F-35B operating from an LHD, having an airborne capability that could operate from the LHD would enhance the protection of both maritime and land forces. While there are limitations in the operational capabilities of current maritime UCAV in terms of payload, detection and resilience, there’s no doubt that these issues are being addressed as major maritime powers increase their level of investment in this capability. Their presence on an LHD also wouldn’t impact on the size of any embarked landing force in the same way as a F-35B force package.

Procuring a UCAV would be expensive but it’s a comparatively low-cost option compared to the F-35B. The ADF should give thought to developing a suite of unmanned aerial vehicles for use across the services. UCAV offers the ability to project from a greater number and type of forward bases and in conjunction with the other air, maritime and land base systems in the joint force provide a persistent contribution to the operational effects of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), sea denial, sea control, air interdiction, air strike and close air support. Their utility and cost effectiveness warrant further consideration.

Mark Ascough is an Australian Army officer. The views expressed in this paper are his own and do not reflect those of the Australian Army or Department of Defence. Image courtesy of UK Ministry of Defence.