You are what you measure

The Australian Crime Commission continues to report increased seizures of Amphetamine Type Substances

Recently-released Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) research, Findings from the DUMA program: Impact of reduced methamphetamine supply on consumption of illicit drugs and alcohol, casts further doubts over the effectiveness of Australian border-enforcement agencies’ use of seizure statistics as performance measures. The research reinforced the validity of Australia’s ‘harm minimisation through supply reduction’ policies, but found that current strategies appear to be having little effect on supply.

While the Australian Crime Commission continues to report increased seizures of Amphetamine Type Substances (ATS)—from 2012 to 2013 an 85.6% increase in detections and a 515.8% increase in total weight of  ACC seizures—the AIC researchers found that those were not having any marked impact on the drug’s domestic availability to users. True, border enforcement’s impact on ATS domestic availability is delayed by factors such as the presence of stockpiles, or market-responsive domestic manufacturing. Still, increased seizure rates have been a consistent trend over recent years, so decreases in domestic availability should have been realised by now, if the current strategy were effective.

For organised crime groups (OCG) the Australia ATS market has strong economic pull factors; a high per-capita user demand, and a market that’s characterised by high and stable prices (In global terms). To undermine the profit motivation for OCG in the Australian ATS market, border agencies need to seize large proportions of the total quantity of incoming drugs. I think it would be safe to assess that despite record seizures, stable user prices reveal border and enforcement agencies are not seizing increasing percentages of the total ATS (and their precursors) being imported into Australia.

From reading the research material, I’m left with an impression of disconnects between the use of seizure rates as a performance measure and the achievement of the government’s policy intent of harm minimisation. That isn’t a criticism of the good work of our border and enforcement agencies. It’s a commentary on whether concentrating strategy towards higher seizure rates, at the cost of other more innovative enforcement strategies and measures, is the best approach to supply reduction.

In the interim, border agency decision-making continues to focus on achieving higher seizure rates, fearing criticism for weaker performance. Border security policymakers are in a conundrum over whether to continue to pursue politically-sensitive increases in seizures or the less tangible complex and difficult outcomes that are actually required. I don’t believe that the policy challenge is an exclusive choice;—to seize or not to seize. I’d like to see the pressure to increase seizure rates reduced, to allow our enforcement agencies the opportunity to redirect resources to address border vulnerabilities. At the same time additional performance measures – such as the average street price of ATS in Australia – could be used to measure agencies’ contributions to government outcomes. Factors such as changes in the domestic ‘street price’ of ATS could be used as tangible measure of the impact that border enforcement agencies have on markets, despite the inherent inaccuracies involved in estimating average street prices.

With the Attorney General’s Department’s review of the National Organised Crime Response Plan 2010-2013 now two years overdue, it would seem an appropriate time to revisit the current policies that underpin the national response to ATS.

John Coyne is a senior analyst at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user Daniel Foster.

Army and armour—moving the debate forward

An ASLAV from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment fires its 25mm Bushmaster cannon during a night live-fire practise at Mount Bundey training area during Exercise Eagle's Run.

In a recent blog post my colleague Karl Claxton took the opportunity to frame the issues around the Defence Minister Kevin Andrew’s recent Land 400 announcement. Sadly, Karl echoes an old complaint:

‘Most commentators have been hostile toward the project from its inception a decade ago. The key complaint arises from a disconnect between strategic guidance in the 2000, 2009 and 2013 white papers, directing that equipment acquisitions be prioritised around what’s needed to prevent attacks against Australia and contribute to stability in our immediate region, and LAND 400’s focus on platforms for high-intensity contemporary and future operations including amphibious assault.’

Armour and the Australian Army must be one of the most uninformed policy and capability debates in recent Australian defence history, and let’s face it, we have had some absolute classic defence force structure debates over the decades. In this case I want to put down some facts which may help us navigate our way through what’ll inevitably be an emotional rollercoaster for enthusiasts from both sides of the argument.

Let me state up front: the heavy/light and high-intensity/low-intensity debate is complete rot! Disconnected from strategic guidance? Again rot! I for one am more concerned with saving lives and giving the government of the day the best options available when it looks to use and deploy ground forces. Have we all been asleep over the last decade as Australian lives have been saved by armour?

Let’s start with the tank. As someone who was closely involved with the Abrams decision, I’d just like to outline the following facts. In response to the 2000 White Paper—which is still the exemplar of a Defence White Paper both in process and outcome—Army undertook a review of its armoured vehicle fleet to ensure it was able to adhere to the government’s direction that the Army would ‘have the combat weight they need to achieve their missions without undue risk’.  I think that’s strategic guidance.

This wasn’t about heavy or light; it was about threat, survivability and risk. The Leopard tank at the time was found wanting on the basis of all objective analysis, in particular in relation to survivability and cost. It’d been the victim of chronic institutional underinvestment. Government, not Army, directed that alternatives be investigated.  Defence then cast the net widely. Swiss and German Leopard tanks, British Challengers and US Abrams tanks were reviewed based on cost and survivability against the changing threat environment seen at that time in Iraq and reinforced since in Afghanistan and the broader Middle East. While I was sceptical to begin with, the Abrams came first not because of a small child’s need to play with the big boys but on a clear and pragmatic evaluation of cost, capability, survivability and fleet scale, particularly in supply chain and ongoing  R&D investment. Why haven’t we deployed tanks when many of our partners have? I suspect it has more to do with an emotional Canberra policy myopia where tanks are concerned than a pragmatic force option consideration.

To turn now to Land 400 Phase 2—this is about replacing the ASLAV. It’s not about force structure distortion or Korean peninsula stars in the eyes of the ‘Iron Colonels’. It’s a pragmatic response to the ageing of a fleet which has been a workhorse of the ADF over nearly two decades and a changing threat environment. Army calls it  democratisation of lethality, in the form of improvised explosive devices and widely available hand-held weapons; which means that the minimum level of protection with which governments would be willing to deploy soldiers includes a V-shaped hull and protection from small arms fire. It also includes, dependent on the task, the flexibility to add the equipment needed to impose one’s will on any prospective adversary—an element of soldiering Australians have become used to in Afghanistan.

That brings us to the future phases of Land 400—which I’m sure will create the grounds for a fiery debate—and the requirement to carry infantry into the most lethal parts of the battlefield.  Just to frame that requirement a little, highly lethal combat is an ever-present threat; even a peacekeeping force deployed in the future might need to survive those highly lethal zones.

Australian governments have become accustomed to the gravity of those types of decisions—but if future soldiers are to be given the best opportunity to prevail in such clashes, there’ll be a need for a close-combat system that includes tanks and the ability to move infantry in protected vehicles.

Analysts spend a lot of time reviewing the specifics of aircraft and submarines, and are increasingly comfortable with the Special Forces community. But sadly there is much ground to be made up if there’s to be a meaningful and informed debate about future phases of Land 400 and the type of force-structure options that governments would wish to see Army have in the coming decades. That’s the strategic guidance bit.

This is not about a recidivist Army. It is about an Army which understands risk, survivability and the operating environment it will need to respond to. ASPI and Army will be addressing just those issues in June during ASPI’s Land Force Conference—‘Army’s Future Force Structure Options’. In the meantime let’s move the debate on.

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

Sea State

Ashton CarterSubmarines continue to make headlines across Australia, with the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey encouraging Australia to make a quick decision about a replacement for the Collins-class submarines. In a press briefing in Sydney on Tuesday, General Dempsey stated that:

‘Whatever choice Australia makes we would strongly encourage that the systems be compatible and interoperable with the US forces. So that we can continue to operate like we do today.’

The Australian has also released a piece outlining that the submarine choice reached the point last year where media releases stating that Australia would buy a fleet of Japanese Soryu-class derived subs were prepared, but never sent out. Moreover, while it appears that the suggestion to partner with Japan ‘came first from senior American officials’, the Australian Financial Review has reported that despite many politicians believing otherwise, the US is perfectly capable of operating closely with militaries which have differing combat systems.

Meanwhile, Liberal MPs from South Australia have warned Prime Minister Tony Abbott that he may face political retribution should he choose to have the subs built outside of Australia. With Sweden’s Saab out of the running, the government has called for Germany, France and Japan to submit proposals, leaving the possibility of construction abroad wide open.

The Swedish Defence Minister was less than happy about the Australian decision, saying (in Swedish, translated here):

‘[it] is very noteworthy that Australia now does not choose an open and transparent process where potential partners can present their offers. It is my strong belief that Sweden and SAAB/Kockums would be well in the game if we had been given the possibility to present an offer to Australia. … I regret that Australia now chooses not to deepen the cooperation with Sweden in the field of underwater technology’.

The Center for International Maritime Security has offered its opinion on the US Navy’s new ‘distributed lethality’ concept, which will see almost every one of the USN’s surface ships wielding offensive missiles. CIMSEC thinks that implementation should begin with the surface combatants, rather than unarmed non-combatant vessels which would be expensive sitting ducks until further investments are made in their defensive systems.

The Center for a New American Security has some ideas on how Ashton Carter, the newly confirmed US Secretary of Defense, can increase his odds of success in the role. Priorities include replacing the Ohio-class ballistic missile subs, and investing in unmanned underwater vehicles.

In Southeast Asia, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi indicated on Wednesday that Indonesia’s chairing of Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) later this year will see the nation living up to its promise to become a ‘global maritime axis’. This new position will allow Indonesia to pivot its focus westward towards the Indian Ocean, a region that traditionally hasn’t been a big foreign policy focus for the country.

Maritime security in the Asia–Pacific region has been a recurrent theme in The Diplomat this week, with two articles released that focus on the failure of existing structures and forums in Southeast Asia to address regional maritime security issues. The first debunks the proposed establishment of an Asia Maritime Organization for Security and Cooperation, while the second shines a spotlight on divergent national interests—particularly China’s—as the primary cause for Asia’s failure to discuss maritime security seriously.

Meanwhile, China’s officially acknowledged its land reclamation project on Cuarteron Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands. Citing the satellite images that ruffled some feathers last week, China Military Online indicated that they’d officially begun reclamation efforts, and argued that the reef falls ‘within the scope of China’s sovereignty’.

Finally, registration is now open for ASPI’s forthcoming conference on the Future Surface Fleet, scheduled to be held at the Canberra Hyatt from 30 March – 1 April. The conference features a stellar line-up of international and Australian speakers, and will address a range of issues that we’ve already begun exploring here (and here, and here) on The Strategist. Last year’s ASPI conference on submarines was a sell-out. Book early this year to avoid disappointment.

Amelia Long is an intern at ASPI. Image courtesy of Frank Grass.

Aidies, pinstripes and DFAT’s cultural revolution

To write of bureaucratic culture is to venture into fog and quicksand and risk returning with mud and mush. Yet in understanding a power town like Canberra, culture offers answers not delivered by legal tomes or political theory. So this post is about culture—a nebulous element that can be decisive.

The previous column saw the integration of AusAID into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as the greatest revolution in Australia’s foreign policy bureaucracy since 1987.

A later column will look at what Australia has lost and gained as DFAT swallowed AusAID (and it will be a discussion of capacity and culture, not just aid dollars). To set that up, consider the cultural revolution—the ‘integration’ of aidies with the diplomatic pinstripes.

Diplomacy and aid range over similar territory, but they have different mindsets and understandings and, yes, culture. To illustrate, take the idea that aid is the soft arm of defence policy and the financial arm of diplomacy. Defence, diplomacy and aid sit at different points on the same continuum of a state’s international policy. But army and aidies and pinstripes, all instruments of common state purpose, have extraordinarily different practices and understanding of their professional practice.

To see the culture clash now inside DFAT, here’s a comparison of pinstripes and aidies, based not so much on ideal types as standard models, leaning to an aid perspective.

Pinstripes are:

(a) focused on ‘relationships’, and often on the short-term;

(b) utterly driven by what the minister wants;

(c) strongly influenced by Australian ambassadors and embassies overseas;

(d) not necessarily interested, nor trained, in financial matters or budgets;

(e) not used to outsourcing activities beyond the bureaucracy and dealing with a wide range of different partners who are delivering difficult programs;

(f) not used to working with contracts (drawing up and enforcing contracts, and then working out what to do when they go wrong);

(g) able to speak the language of diplomacy, realist in flavour and state-based;

(h) see bilateral relationships with other states as the basic building block.

In contrast, aidies are:

(a) focused on the long-term (five years is a short period in the aid game);

(b) responsive to the minister but aware that most aid work will extend beyond the appointment of any single minister;

(c) responsive to ambassadors but aware that most aid work in any country happens outside the embassy and beyond the current ambassador’s term;

(d) highly focused on budgets, detailed accountability and audits;

(e) heavily reliant on outsourcing because most aid is delivered or implemented by others—contractors, consultants, universities, scientific organisations, the Australian military and police, disaster organisations, NGOs, World Bank, Asian Development Bank and dozens of UN agencies;

(f) heavily reliant on contractual relationships;

(g) able to speak the language of aid which is internationalist, humanist and liberal;

(h) able to bring a multilateral mindset to bilateral work.

Now that AusAID has disappeared, the aidies are mainly reporting to Division Heads and Deputy Secretaries in DFAT who usually know little about foreign aid work.  The pinstripes don’t understand the world in the way standard aidies are expected to think.

A Canberra veteran describes the differences this way:

Many aid people (not all, but many) have had extensive experience in aid delivery in developing countries. Over time, they learn, often from bitter experience, that there are lots and lots of things that go wrong with aid. You need to be watching programs all the time, every day, because things slip out of control. Before you know it, you’ve got financial and legal and audit problems on your hands—not to say ambassadors at each end getting irritated. Diplomats, as a general rule, just have not had these experiences. Lots of other things go wrong for diplomats, of course, but the things that go wrong tend to be relational and political rather than financial and legal.

The feedback on the integration is mixed. Many good aidies have gone. Important development experience has left the building. Australia’s capacity to design and deliver good aid is damaged. Some aidies think it’s been destroyed.

On the other side of the office, many pinstripes agree with their political masters that this doesn’t matter—Australia’s relations with Asia (or Africa) are ‘beyond aid’. Having a separate, dedicated aid agency was a luxury. Reform was needed to align aid money with diplomatic power. Governments shift and refine national interest priorities and the system responds to ministerial priorities. For the pinstripes, the cultural revolution has gone smoothly; the work ambit has widened but they’re not the ones having to change. The aidies who are left have to re-set the mindset and settle into a new world.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalist fellow. Edited image courtesy of Flickr user Ryan Hyde.

ASPI suggests

German Chancellor Angela MerkelThis week’s wrap kicks off with an in-depth profile of German Chancellor Angela Merkel from the New Yorker’s December edition. Pay attention to Merkel’s strategy for dealing with Vladimir Putin and her razor-sharp insights into his psychology: on his attempt to intimidate her with his black Labrador (Merkel is terrified of dogs), she said ‘I understand why he has to do this—to prove he’s a man…He’s afraid of his own weakness. Russia has nothing, no successful politics or economy. All they have is this.’

Meanwhile, Putin shared his thoughts (translated into English) with National State Television and Radio Company this week on the Minsk Protocol and the possibility of war between Russia and Ukraine.

Sadly, ISIS members in Mosul decided to express their artistic differences with ancient artefacts by taking to them with sledgehammers and power tools in an effort to destroy ‘false idols’. But The Atlantic’s David Graham offers a different take on the matter: ‘In reality, the relationship with icons in all three Abrahamic religions is rather more elaborate than Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would want us to believe—but the tradition is there. Destroying traces of forebears, and even robbing and destroying tombs, has perhaps a longer tradition in civilization than preservation.’ Keep reading here. Read more

This week’s new reports include a SIPRI policy brief (PDF) by Tetsuo Kotani on crisis management in the East China Sea, the Heritage Foundation’s 2015 Index of US Military Strength (including essays on the role of special forces and the rebalance, check out the executive summary here), and Ahmed S. Hashim’s RSIS report on the impact of Islamic State in Asia.

Grab a cup of coffee and make time for this debate in three parts between James Fallows and Restrepo filmmaker Sebastian Junger on ‘the tragedy of the American military’. Part one by Fallows grapples with ‘careless spending and strategic follow’ which lure America into ‘endless wars it can’t win’. In part two, Sebastian Junger responds to Fallows, taking him up on his discussion of a draft and what that means for future US involvement in conflict. Part three (and several cups of coffee later), Fallows tries to set the record straight on whether 1% of the US population serving in the military is a problem. Time for some decaf.

What does the future of war look like? Douglas Ollivant has a think piece on CNN that charts some future trends of conflict which corresponds with the launch of New America’s Future of War project this week. Check out the #futureofwar Twitter hashtag as well for discussion on ideas and concepts from the launch.

Meanwhile, DARPA has joined the fight against human trafficking by developing a search engine that catches results on the ‘dark web’ including job postings, chat forums and other hidden services that support modern day slavery.


CSIS has brought the podcast goods this week. The latest episode of cogistAsia’s weekly podcast features discussion with Michael Kirby who passionately advocates upholding human rights in North Korea as well as Mira Rapp-Hooper and Gregory Poling on images of China’s reclamation activities in the South China Sea (22mins).

As part of CSIS’ Smart Women Smart Power series, Nina Easton interviewed Afghanistan’s first lady Rula Ghani on her country’s future, women, and how Afghan expats can help rebuild their nation (42mins).


Take a two-minute tour into Gaza through the eyes of well-known (but anonymous) graffiti artist Banksy. Filmed as a travel ad, the footage shows children playing in rubble and houses alleged to have been destroyed by Israel’s Operation Protective Edge. ‘The locals like it so much they never leave’, states the film’s text sardonically.


Canberra: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will launch the foundation-formerly-known-as-Kokoda, now the Institute for Regional Security, at the IFRS Inaugural Address on Regional Stability and Prosperity at Gandel Hall on Tuesday 17 March at 7,30pm. Bookings essential.

Sydney: What’s gone wrong with the Jokowi presidency? The AIIA NSW is hosting David Reeve and Zulaika Chudori on this topic at an event held at Glover Cottages on Tuesday 3 March at 6pm.

Claire Corbett will be discussing Australia’s future submarine, delving into why the decision is so complex and difficult. The event will be held at the Mitchell Theatre on Tuesday 17 March at 12.30pm.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Flickr user European Council

Assessing Australian energy vulnerability

LNG plant, Victoria.

Some analysts have recently observed that Australia isn’t complying with its International Energy Agency obligations—it’s the only member of the International Energy Agency (IEA) that doesn’t have a 90-day supply of strategic petroleum reserves. But aside from the fact that Australia isn’t living up to an international agreement, just how vulnerable does that lack of reserves make Australia? Coming up with an answer isn’t easy—assessments are mixed, and the data contested. Still, overall, Australia’s energy vulnerability seems to be getting worse, not better.

When Andrew Davies and Edward Mortimer assessed this issue back in 2011, they concluded that Australia’s vulnerability in the next five years would be low, even without a strategic reserve, largely because of a diversity of suppliers in the market. Further, they demonstrated that strategic reserves held by other countries had a marginal impact on helping to sort out shocks in in the system, again, largely because of the diversity in suppliers. They did, however, predict that in the medium term (5 to 25 years), things weren’t so rosy—because of a gradually increasing concentration of suppliers. Just four years later, their predictions about increasing vulnerability appear to be coming true. Read more

A series of reports on Australia’s liquid fuel security published in 2013 and 2014 by the NRMA are frightening. Australia’s suffering from an ever-increasing reliance on imported liquid fossil fuels and a declining domestic refining capacity. The reports explain that 90% of Australia’s domestic transport liquid fuels are imported. There are multiple critical links in the supply chain, all the way from the source to the consumer. Each of those links is vulnerable to the influence of malign actors, disasters, even sensitivities in the world’s banking, financial and insurance systems. The reports further explain that Australia’s quickly moving toward a situation where by 2030 it’ll have no domestic refining capability, less than 20 days of fuel in the supply system (including corporate reserves), and a 100% import dependency. That means that if the supply gets interrupted, Australia will have a matter of weeks to sort it out before experiencing economic consequences. Some estimates of the severity of such consequences can be found here and here.

Perhaps the most vulnerable choke points in the international oil supply system are the Straits of Hormuz and Malacca. Together, about 57% of the world’s maritime oil trade moves through those two locations. Much of Australia’s liquid fuel supply comes through one or both. The statistics can be confusing as one source claims that only 37% of Australia’s liquid fuel comes from the Middle East (and therefore must pass through Hormuz). Yet, as the number of Australian refineries quickly dwindles toward zero in 2030 (see the NRMA reports), Australia must rely on the refineries of other Asian countries (see here and here) who are much more dependent upon Middle-East oil. Japan, South Korea, and Singapore all rely on Middle-East crude for over 80% of their refined product. As we become more reliant on their refineries we inherit that dependency.

Many reports offer recommendations on how to address Australia’s energy vulnerabilities. The NRMA reports have some useful suggestions such as including the rebuilding of strategic reserves. They also recommend other actions such as reducing liquid fuel demand, diversifying the sources of transportation fuel, and building a domestic refining capacity. Mark Thomson and Robert Clark show that diversifying to domestically-available liquid natural gas can help. Engineers Australia also published a comprehensive report that examines Australia’s energy security vulnerability beyond just the issue of strategic reserves and liquid fuel security.

But, when it comes to strategic reserves, how valuable are they? The US has a government-run strategic petroleum reserve system that seemed to come in handy after natural disasters (like Hurricane Katrina in 2005) severely reduced supply. Yet Davies and Mortimer in their report in 2011 provided evidence that the resilience of the US economy had little to do with the release of reserves and more to do with the breadth and depth of the American petroleum industry and its ability to source products on the world market. But that was due in part to the fact that the US petroleum reserves were in crude oil not in refined product. The US had some refining capacity still left and Katrina didn’t hit the rest of the world or interrupt a key choke point. If Australia is left with no refineries, 100% dependence on imported refined product, more than 80% of which comes first through the straits of Hormuz, and no strategic reserves of refined product on hand, the outcome might be more stressful. So, how vulnerable is Australia and what’s being done about it?

Certainly Australia’s defence spending and its commitment to the US alliance helps to secure the global commons and thereby mitigate threats to this apparent vulnerability. Yet, a comprehensive national security strategy should seek to fix vulnerabilities and not just protect them from threats. If that’s the case, other questions need to be asked and answered. How much would it cost to build and fill strategic petroleum reserves? And, just as importantly, what’s the opportunity cost of doing so? The cost of building and filling strategic reserves should be measured against other government funding priorities.

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 Flickr user Paul Hocksenar.

Australia–Indonesia relations: not a game?

Congklak, a traditional Indonesian game.

It’s interesting to think about the Australia–Indonesia relationship in terms of game theory, as Peter Jennings, Peter McCawley and Rod Lyon have done in this blog recently. And I even got a few hundred words into a piece of my own suggesting that the idea of a Nash equilibrium might explain Rod’s observation that cooperation hasn’t broken out for any appreciable length of time in the 60+ years of the relationship.

My basic idea (well, Nash’s brilliant insight applied to this case by me) was that it’s possible for players to get locked into a position where neither of them can gain by changing only their strategy. For example, both can rationally opt for the strategy that gives a middling outcome, avoiding the worst case but also falling short of the best case outcome that cooperation could provide. That’s essentially what Rod described. His thesis is strengthened by the observation from psychology of ‘loss aversion‘, in that people prefer to avoid losses, even at the expense of eschewing the possibility of greater wins. But the more I thought about it and tried to get the ideas on paper, the less I was convinced that we’re thinking about this the right way. Read more

A simple Google search on game theory and international relations provides a plethora of hits, including many scholarly articles—all suggesting this is an attractive way of thinking about international relations. Now I’m originally a physicist by trade, so I’m drawn to the use of simple mathematical models to describe the drivers of complex behaviour—that’s why I like Lanchester’s equations, and every time I encounter a ‘phantom traffic jam‘ I balance my frustration with a geeky satisfaction that there’s maths at work here. But I also know that there are many real-world systems where simple models don’t adequately describe even the key drivers, let alone the detailed behaviour or emergent phenomena that complex systems routinely throw up. And I know that people are intrinsically bad at game theory.

So this time I’m going for a social science explanation. (I might have to have a cup of tea, a Bex and good lie down after this.) Any scientist worth their salt knows that the first recourse should be Occam’s razor—the principle that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the simplest explanation should be preferred. In the case of Australia–Indonesia relations, instead of reaching for the textbook on game theory and wondering how we got enmeshed in a dilemma from which escape is beyond our collective power, I wonder if it’s as simple as observing that consistent cooperation hasn’t broken out simply because the two countries’ interests don’t overlap that much. In this view, we aren’t so much locked together in a struggle for advantage by probability and its calculable (or at least estimable) outcomes, as we’re randomly walking our own paths, cooperating when they converge in a positive direction and bickering—even coming to blows, or at least a tense stand-off—when they don’t.

In other words, we aren’t players in the same game all that often, and when we’re sometimes on the same side (tsunami relief, counter-terrorism operations after the Bali bombings) and sometimes not (Konfrontasi, East Timor in 1999). Our history explains why: Australia has always been actively on the side of the major Western naval power of the day and post-colonial Indonesia hasn’t been on anyone’s side—and resolutely tries to keep it that way, with ‘a million friends and zero enemies‘. The prevailing pattern—of indifference punctuated intermittently by cooperation and non-cooperation—follows naturally from that. In those instances when the two countries bump together—which is sometimes inevitable because of proximity—then the potential benefits and pain can be considerable. In those cases, the approach of game theory might be a useful lens for analysing the situation, as the previous authors in this series have done.

For me the interesting question is how the world, and the two countries’ paths through it, might change in the future. Australia will almost certainly retain its Western-leaning stance. So realistically we’re talking about a shift in Indonesia’s approach to its international relations. It would require a significant shock to achieve that. For example, significant maritime/territorial pressure from China could force Indonesia either to acquiesce or to make a greater commitment to Australia’s ‘side’. In any case, if externalities act to align Australian and Indonesian interests much more closely, then cooperation should become the order of the day—and only if it doesn’t should we start to look for esoteric game-theory explanations.

Andrew Davies is senior analyst for defence capability and director of research at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user fitri agung.

Australia, Indonesia and Confrontation

The withdrawal parade in Labuan from the Royal Navy, Royal Australian Navy and Royal New Zealand Navy at the end of the confrontation after their successful mission.Perhaps an old-fashioned diplomatic historian might add to the valuable comments by Peter Jennings, Peter McCawley and Greta Nabbs-Keller on how to handle the current tensions between Australia and Indonesia. In particular, we might usefully look at the years between 1963 and 1966, when the two countries were engaged in armed conflict. In an extremely complex regional and international environment, Australian troops supported British and Malaysian forces who were opposing the Indonesian ‘Confrontation’ (Konfrontasi) of the new federation of Malaysia.

The Indonesian Confrontation (as it’s now officially designated) was a relatively small conflict instigated by Sukarno, soon wiped from the public mind and memory by the much larger war in Vietnam. But Jakarta’s provocative mixture of political rhetoric, diplomatic posturing, and low-level military engagements always carried the danger of escalation, threatening Australia’s national interests and complicating our alliance relationships. Read more

Australia’s handling of that challenging crisis can now be seen as an outstandingly successful display of statecraft. In essence, Australian diplomats convinced their minister, Sir Garfield Barwick, who in turn convinced the prime minister, Sir Robert Menzies, and their senior ministerial colleagues, that the conflict required delicate handling. The Indonesians must not be allowed to prevent the formation of the new federation of Malaysia, but the impact on long-term Australia–Indonesia relations had to be minimised. Skill and good fortune led to an excellent outcome. After the 1965 coup, Jakarta dropped its Confrontation policy, and Australia soon established a cordial relationship with the new regime.

To achieve those aims, the government went to great lengths to keep open all possible channels of communication with Indonesia. Through those channels, a clear, consistent but nuanced message was conveyed. In effect, Canberra said to Jakarta: ‘We strongly oppose your policy towards Malaysia, and we will act to prevent it from succeeding. But Australia and Indonesia will always be close neighbours, and it’s in the interests of both countries to have the best possible long-term relationship. So we’ll work to confine this issue, and not allow it to damage other areas. We’ll also do everything we can to resolve this issue as peacefully as possible, and to help you to end it without loss of face, at home or internationally.’

The policy was largely driven by the Department of External Affairs, a forerunner of today’s DFAT, which was then going through something of a golden era. The heads of our diplomatic missions in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur played major roles, as did the senior diplomats in Canberra. Not only were diplomatic, aid, trade and educational links maintained, but Australian and Indonesian officers attended each other’s staff colleges, while their comrades were in combat.

The military played a vital role, combining successful operations with great discretion. Australian soldiers and their Commonwealth allies crossed the border into Indonesian territory, but those operations were kept highly secret. Indonesian casualties were announced as having taken place on Malaysian soil, to minimise embarrassment to Jakarta.

None of this came easily. Menzies, Barwick and their respective departments differed sharply over whether Australian policy was ‘flabby’. Critics in the media and public accused the government of appeasement. Nevertheless, the nuanced policy was maintained, and to good effect.

No two historical episodes are identical. The lessons of one are not necessarily applicable to another, but some elements of this example of successful Australian statecraft probably have wider application.

First, keeping open all possible channels of contact and communication is important. Far from withdrawing the ambassador—an act at best unhelpful and at worst counter-productive—the government placed considerable trust in a skilful diplomat. (It’s sheer bad luck that the current tension is occurring when there’s no serving Australian ambassador in Jakarta.) Keeping aid, trade and other links open, even while the military were engaged in combat, sent a silent but clear message about the costs of the immediate problem and the benefits of a good long-term relationship.

More broadly, ministers showed that they had confidence in a strong, capable and experienced foreign office and diplomatic service, as well as in the ability of the armed forces to operate skilfully, effectively and with great discretion. Military and diplomatic actions were carefully calibrated and coordinated. A ‘whole-of-government’ approach was achieved through robust discussion between Cabinet ministers and senior officials.

Ministers and officials consistently sought to confine the extent of the conflict, to avoid raising the temperature of political and diplomatic discourse, and not to link Confrontation to other areas of the relationship. When appropriate, Australian policymakers urged moderation and restraint on friends and allies as well as enemies, sometimes hosing down their British and Malaysian counterparts in the interests of an agreed outcome. Canberra also kept closely in touch with Washington, which always keeps a close, if discreet, watch on Australia–Indonesia relations.

The prime minister left much of the running to a capable foreign minister, confining his own contributions to matters of high policy, expressed with Menzian eloquence. Opposition to Indonesian policy was stated firmly, but diplomatically. The government succeeded, for the most part, in avoiding belligerent statements designed to impress a domestic audience, even when facing accusations of appeasement.

And at all times, the government kept its eyes focused on the long-term goal of achieving a positive relationship with our most important neighbour, even when Australian and Indonesian forces were engaged in direct conflict.

Peter Edwards is the author of Crises and Commitments and Australia and the Vietnam War, both of which discuss Australian policy during the Indonesian Confrontation. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

CT Scan

Pakistan has ordered that unless mobile phone users to confirm their identities via fingerprints, to be added to a CT database; otherwise, their service will be severed.

This week features the Prime Minister’s national security statement, the Countering Violent Extremism Summit in Washington, terror threats in the Asia–Pacific, sweeping CT legal reforms across the globe and the upcoming metadata retention bill.

Following the release of the Martin Place Siege Review on Sunday and the Review of Australia’s Counter-Terrorism Machinery the next day, Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivered the much-anticipated National Security Statement at AFP headquarters on Monday. The announcement included tighter immigration controls, a crackdown on ‘hate preachers’ and the future appointment of CT ‘tsar’ to improve cooperation between national security agencies. He also called on Muslim leaders to more frequently describe Islam as a ‘religion of peace’.

Reaction to the statement was mixed. Critics warned that the announcements risk alienating the Islamic community (‘a vital source of information on extremists’), that the tsar would be ‘good in theory but a bit messy in practice’ and that tougher laws are not necessarily more effective.  See also The Australian’s analysis of the statement in the context of Australia’s national security climate. Read more

Complementing the law reform proposals, Attorney-General George Brandis announced last Thursday an allocation of $18 million to combatting and restricting access to extremist narratives online. However, terrorism researcher Andrew Zammit wrote that the role of social media in radicalisation is ‘overstated’, pointing to reports indicating that ‘real-world’ relationships, not social media, are the decisive influence in radicalising British extremists.

Tuning into international dialogue, what can we take out of the White House’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Summit? Hardeep S. Puri and Omar El Okdah over on The Global Observatory noted that the summit underscored the need for a multilateral strategy, whilst acknowledging changes in the scope of the problem (now that violent non-state actors control land as large as the UK) and the need to address the ‘root causes’ of extremism. Adopting a human rights approach to CT, President Obama stressed the ‘undeniable’ link between oppression and terrorism:

‘When people are oppressed, and human rights are denied — particularly along sectarian lines or ethnic lines, when dissent is silenced, it feeds violent extremism…’

See here for the President’s full remarks and the summit’s Ministerial Meeting Statement for a full overview. On the other hand, critics of the meeting argued that the conference was too narrowly focussed, including that it looked at soft power to the exclusion of hard power, at individuals and not broader extremist group strategies, and at Muslims over all forms of violent extremists.

Turning to the Asia–Pacific, Michael Kugelman has a new Foreign Policy piece setting out three ways that ISIS could make inroads in the region. On China, the Australian Security Magazine provided a succinct analysis of how the rising terrorism threat plays out in the unique Chinese context. In particular, China’s Turkic speaking, predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority has received considerable attention, with China currently carrying out a terrorism crackdown in the Uyghur homeland of Xinjiang. The Diplomat discusses how Afghanistan’s arrest and transfer of Muslim Uyghur militants to China demonstrates Afghanistan’s willingness to deepen CT cooperation with the nation, a sign of China’s ever-growing engagement with the Central Asian state.

Finally, the global wave of new CT legislation continues. Pakistan has ordered that unless mobile phone users to confirm their identities via fingerprints to be added to a CT database, their service will be severed. These measures were a response to the accumulation of untraceable cell phones, including those used by Taliban militants who killed 150 students in December last year. Egypt has passed new anti-terror laws that broaden the meaning of ‘terrorist’ and gives authorities sweeping powers, including banning activities and freezing funds of deemed ‘terrorists’. In Canada, the anti-terrorism bill dubbed ‘Bill C-51’ passed the second reading, taking the country closer to the expansion of powers of national security agencies and police to foil terrorist plots. See here for details and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s case for the bill, and here for details of a joint statement signed by prominent Canadians (including four former PMs) calling for greater oversight.

Coming up, the Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security will be delivering a report on the hotly debated metadata retention bill tomorrow. Speaking at the Tech Leaders conference on Sunday, AFP Assistant Commissioner made the case that access to metadata and telecommunications data is a ‘vital aspect of all serious crime investigations’. For a look at both sides of the argument, the CSO has conveniently provided a two-part series, including the cases for and against metadata retention.

Stephanie Huang is an intern at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user LL Twistiti.

The Beat

The Senate passed amendments to the 2002 Proceeds of Crime Act to create the 2014 Unexplained Wealth and Other Measures Bill on 9 February 2015

This week on The Beat, we discuss the implications of Abbott’s national security address, the Australian Crime Commission’s appearance at the House Standing Committee on Communications, unexplained wealth and metadata laws, the Australian Cyber Security Conference, HSBC leaks concerning Australia and our four-legged friends’ contributions to law enforcement.

National security address

On Monday Prime Minister Abbott made a National Security Address signalling a range of new security measures to counter the threat of violent extremism. New measures include the creation of a National Counter-terrorism Coordinator, and the possibility of revoking Australian citizenships of dual Australian citizens charged with terrorism offences. The issue of revoking citizenships for convicted terrorists is fraught with difficulties, as Andrew Zammit and I have discussed recently.

Essential to the introduction of those new powers will be having the oversight necessary to maintain the integrity of our intelligence and law-enforcement agencies. One of the biggest threats to national security would be a loss of confidence in our security agencies, as David Connery and I explain on The Drum. Read more

Australian Crime Commission at the House Standing Committee on Communications.

The House Standing Committee on Communications met on Wednesday 25 February to hear evidence from the Australian Crime Commission at the third public hearing of the inquiry into the Telecommunications Act 1997. The ACC have provided a submission stating that balancing transparency, accountability and law-enforcement effectiveness can be achieved by creating a regime that’s proportional to the threat posed by serious and organised crime.

The hearing will discuss Section 313 of the act, which authorises the disruption of online activities by some government agencies. The ACC is a strong advocate of this section. The committee’s hearings and submissions can be viewed here, along with an interview with Committee Chairman, Jane Prentice, on section 313.

Unexplained wealth laws pass both houses

The Senate passed amendments to the 2002 Proceeds of Crime Act to create the 2014 Unexplained Wealth and Other Measures Bill on 9 February 2015. This new legislation will substantially help law enforcement to undermine criminal enterprises because it can be used to compel people to explain where their wealth comes from. A national approach, that allows police nation-wide to make the most of this legislation, is now needed.


As the debate about the Government’s proposed metadata laws increases, the AFP’s Assistant Commissioner Tim Morris presented a case for the laws, and contradicted claims that metadata plays only a limited role in criminal investigations. He also explained the actual content of the metadata and the process by which officers can request it.


Overseas, the controversy around the Swiss arm of HSBC Bank allegedly assisting their customers conceal billions of dollars to avoid paying tax continues. This has reignited the tax avoidance debate in the United Kingdom. Whilst that’s mainly limited to the United Kingdom and Europe, Australia has not been immune to the scandal. The Australian Taxation Office has been investigating the accounts of high-profile Australians such as Elle MacPherson and the late Kerry Packer. However, it’s not alleged that those individuals have broken any laws. The investigation continues.

Working like a dog

Finally, National Geographic has published a collection of Andrew Fladeboe’s photographs of working dogs, including search and rescue dogs. Operational dogs are used in Australia by federal and state police, as well as customs and border protection. You can also apply to be a foster carer for Customs and Border Protection Labrador puppies before they start their careers or adopt retired dogs. Here’s a salute to our canine colleagues who play a vital role in our intelligence and law enforcement operations.

Coming up:

Australian Cyber Security Conference. Barely a week goes past where we don’t find a concerning aspect of cybercrime to report on. The Australian Cyber Security Centre, a joint venture of the Attorney-General and Minister for Defence, will hold their 2015 conference on 22-23 April in Canberra. Registration and the program are available here.    

Clare Murphy is an intern working within ASPI’s Strategic Policing and Law Enforcement Program. Image courtesy of Flickr user clement127.

A glaring omission: what about Australia’s CT response models and capabilities?

Bureaucratic machinery

There was a glaring omission in the Review of Australia’s Counter-Terrorism Machinery released this week: an absence of discussion about the implications of the changed threat environment for Australia’s response models and capabilities, either domestically or offshore.

Logically, it should follow if there has been a major deterioration in the threat to Australia—both at home and abroad—such a development should prompt a detailed review of the capabilities, plans and procedures needed to respond. It’s inconsistent to only undertake an examination of the way Canberra’s competing bureaucracies interact, especially when singularly focussed at the most senior levels.

Don’t get me wrong. The review is a significant contribution to informing sensible public debate about the changing terrorist threat to Australia. The discussion about the need to boost longer-term community-based approaches to counter violent extremism, address its underlying causes and challenge extremist narratives is highly valuable. These approaches deserve far greater prominence. The recommendation to develop a new national counter-terrorism (CT) strategy is very welcome. Such a strategy will hopefully be binding inter-agency roadmap which clearly explains the ‘why’ rationale linked to the ‘how’ and ‘what’ necessary to achieve the objectives. An amalgam of semi-related initiatives from different departments and agencies cobbled together in one booklet won’t suffice. Read more

But given what the review says about the contemporary home-grown threat and what the world has endured recently in Copenhagen, Paris, Nairobi, Boston and Mumbai, follow-up work to assess the efficacy of Australia’s existing CT response models and capabilities is essential. This should occur as soon as possible and before the national CT strategy is released. To be relevant, the review team should comprise experienced working-level practitioners from police, emergency services, the ADF and ASIO. Without it, the judgement that Australia has ‘strong, well-coordinated counter-terrorism arrangements [that overall] have been quite successful’ [p. iv] is premature.

Australia has a long-standing National Counter Terrorism Plan (NCTP), underpinned by an operational handbook, that specifies processes and procedures which jurisdictional and Commonwealth agencies would base responses to an attack or serious threat. But the current plan, though updated periodically, draws its design legacy from terrorist modus operandi of the 1970s and 1980s—particularly static location, demand/deadline-based hostage taking attacks.

The current threat—characterised by less predictable, small-scale but highly lethal attack methods against urban targets with no warning—behoves an appraisal of how effective the current NCTP and how relevant enabling legislation still are. A detailed gap analysis of specialist police and ADF CT capabilities and their operating methods is also needed. It’s a reasonable starting assumption that a more flexible NCTP and major update for specialist police and ADF special forces capabilities are necessary to match the deteriorating threat. State and territory jurisdictions should be equal participants in these reviews.

Hard questions, likewise, cannot be avoided. Is ‘negotiate and wait’ the best strategy against ideologically hardened and (potentially) combat experienced terrorists? How can advanced ADF CT capabilities better enable police and agency needs for high-risk tasks, both pre- and post-event? What else can Australia do to disrupt terrorist activity, at home and abroad, that we may not have considered previously?

In the very short-term, Australia should test its existing response models across all capabilities (from police and emergency first responders to ADF) and all aspects of government (including specific Authorising Minister participation). Such a test should be rigorous challenge—based on the terrorist skills and attributes exhibited by Australian terrorists fighting with daesh in Syria and Iraq—and occur with no warning. Too often, CT exercises are rendered meaningless by their highly scripted outcomes, overly simplistic threat actions and lack of senior participation. Such a test should naturally occur away from the public eye and help drive capability and response plan reviews.

In the offshore space, an immediate start point should be to review options if an Australian was kidnapped by daesh in Syria or Iraq. Australia has recent experience in foreign kidnappings with the Rodwell and Brennan cases. But these were primarily driven by monetary gain rather than ideological or propaganda value and undertaken by less sophisticated and violent threat groups.

There are difficulties in talking about these issues openly. Many aspects of specialist response capabilities and plans are classified. It will be sometime before the NSW coronial inquiry into the Martin Place siege concludes its findings. Nonetheless, it’s possible to release a public analysis which allows scrutiny, encourages community confidence and possibly deters terrorists while protecting operational sensitivities.

As Prime Minister Abbott said recently: daesh is a ‘metastasising threat‘ which has spread to our suburbs. The risk that Australian terrorist fighters, with training and combat experience in Syria and Iraq, could return here or to other Western countries to carry out attacks is a reality. If Australia ‘is not winning on any front’ [p. iv] and is facing ‘unprecedented operational risk’ [p. 30], more innovative work on our operational, not merely bureaucratic, machinery is essential.

Thomas Lonergan is an ADF officer who has served in Afghanistan and East Timor and has worked on counter-terrorism issues since 2010. He is currently on study leave. These are his personal views. Image courtesy of Flickr user SomeDriftwood.

Cyber wrap

Last week Lenovo grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons following the discovery that the company had pre-loaded adware onto PC’s sold between September 2014 and January 2015. The ‘Superfish’ software monitors users’ online activity and analyses the images that appear on their screens, tailoring subsequent advertising to match their browsing history. That information is gathered without the permission of the user, and until now, the software had been difficult to remove. The program effectively carries out a ‘man-in the middle’ style attack as it decrypts secure traffic, inserts its own ads, and then re-encrypts the traffic. The program is able to function in this fashion as Lenovo added Superfish’s digital signature to Window’s list of trusted root certificates.

In addition to the alarming privacy concerns, the Superfish software has raised several security issues. The US Department of Homeland Security is urging Lenovo customers to uninstall the software as it creates a significant vulnerability that could be exploited by malicious actors. Robert Graham at Errata security has already shown how quickly PCs with Superfish can be compromised. Read more

The Turkish government has announced this week that it’ll launch a Cyber Security Operation Centre constructed entirely on nationally-built software. The CSOC will gather various existing cyber programs and functions carried out by the government and organise them under a ‘single operating system’. To assist in that effort Turkey’s defence procurement office is establishing a unit purely dedicated to cyber security and has already offered to lend ‘every support…to all potential Turkish companies keen to develop solutions’.

Whilst nation-states and private companies are ramping up their defensive efforts against outside attacks, it’s always wise to keep an eye on those inside the tent. A report from PwC looking at global crime found that over half of those wanting to commit fraud against a company actually worked at the company in question. Criminals acting from within organisations are often much harder to spot as they have an advanced knowledge of systems and processes that are in place and where loopholes exist. These types of crimes are therefore often more subtle, longer-term and harder to combat than large, forceful, external attacks.

Lieutenant General Edward C. Cardon, commander of U.S. Army Cyber Command and Second Army recently gave an interesting and wide ranging talk at Georgetown University on the evolution of the cyber landscape. He called not only for a cross-service and cross-government approach, but one that draws in the private sector and international partners. He also spoke about the difficulties surrounding terminology in the cyber world. ‘There’s a real challenge here’. Cardon said. ‘When you say “attack in cyberspace”, what does that really mean? [From a policy standpoint], when you say “attack”, there are a lot of treaties in place that say, “We’ll come in defense of an attack”, so you can instantly start to see how complex this could become rapidly.’

Wrapping up this week, we received the following comment from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet after our ASPI Cyber wrap posted on 18 Feb referenced this article. “The media incorrectly reported this week that the Government’s Cyber Security Review won’t deliver its full findings until the end of the year. The Review is still on track and will report in the six month timeframe announced by the Prime Minister last November. This will be followed by the release of a public strategy outlining practical initiatives to improve our national security, and practical ways government can work with business to make online commerce more secure.” You can also check out the Cyber Security Review’s new web page here.

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