Australia and Fiji go from duel to dance

Q: How do porcupines make love?

A: Carefully.

The joke sets up the Australia’s ‘new era of partnership and prosperity’ with Fiji. The goal is to avoid being impaled on the points while pursuing the pleasure. Fiji and Australia already have a lot of wounds to ignore as they embrace, carefully shifting from duel to dance. The dance will have elements of the old duel, with less overt slash and stab. But after eight years of nothing but duel, it’s back to ‘normal’ to explore what’s possible. Forget past pain to seek future gain. The new era of harmony, though, will be reached porcupine-fashion.

The embrace is cautious because the two nations have duelled for so long. Even as swords lower, the duel defines the starting point. The embrace of ‘normal’ is an attempt to think beyond the scars, yet the underlying reality of the duel persists. Much can be changed, and for the better. The new normal offers chances and the re-opening of channels that have been shut by both sides. Read more

The dance beyond the duel is about rebuilding the relationship. The dialogue—and any understanding—matters for the South Pacific, not least for the discussion Suva and Canberra are to lead on the regional architecture. The regionalism conversation between the status quo and the revisionist power will be fascinating, whatever fruit it bears.

Having spent two years waiting for an entry visa from Fiji, Australia’s High Commissioner, Margaret Twomey, finally gets to dance. The wait says something about the diverse weapons deployed in the duel—from mind games to multilateral minuets. Australia announced in December, 2012, that Twomey would go to Suva, restoring diplomatic relations to the highest level.

Despite giving formal agrément to Twomey’s appointment, Fiji’s regime refused to let her fill the post, to punish Australia for lack of respect. As with the quick peace-prosperity-and-partnership visit to Suva by the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, Twomey’s short flight from Oz to Fiji means the end of a long road; no Damascene conversions by either side, but with all sanctions lifted a new journey waits.

Twomey knows Fiji well from her previous time as Deputy High Commissioner during the 2000 coup, when Frank Bainimarama began the long march to his New Order. Having created his version of Suharto’s Golkar Party, Bainimarama rules as elected Prime Minister. Australia has accepted, as formally as it needs to, Frank’s New Order (and I’ve stopped calling him Supremo).

With democracy restored by his own hand, Bainimarama can’t get too paranoid if Australian diplomats talk to all levels of Fijian society. In the Supremo era, diplomatic activity by the Oz High Commission in the hills above Suva (Australia’s finest embassy building in the South Pacific) was seen as plotting to overthrow the New Order. Tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions followed. Furious Frank Funks are still likely, but ‘normal’ surely means all parts of Fijian society can enjoy their normal rights.

Australia had a lot of experience dealing with Suharto’s New Order and can apply those lessons. One obvious rule is to watch what the leader says, but attach real weight to what he does. Canberra is attempting a dialogue directed at actions and outcomes, while knowing there’s a good chance of gaps between declarations and deeds. Canberra is used to kicks from Suva (see Furious Frank Funks); they won’t hurt much if good things are also happening.

Another set of rules concern power and the courtiers. The role of Fiji’s Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, is already worth a book. Aiyaz has wrapped himself so closely around the throne it’s hard to say where the ruler ends and the Attorney-General starts. When Fiji’s Parliament sits, one form of spectator sport is to track whether Aiyaz is scribbling more notes of advice and instruction to the Prime Minister or the Speaker.

Restoring military relations will offer a useful space clear of Aiyaz and close to Frank. The New Order handbook says military-to-military is a vital regime window that helps set the relationship temperature. Having enjoyed the dubious delights of military education and training in China, Fiji’s officer corps is apparently looking forward to the professional and personal pleasures of the Australian Defence Force. At the ADF Weston Creek college, Sitiveni Rabuka and Bainimarama are both on the class honour roll—for achieving staff rank, not successful coups.

In an unusual twist to New Order habits, Australia may be more comfortable re-engaging Fiji’s military than Fiji’s police. That’s because the police answer to Aiyaz. The new dance with Suva has lots of complicated steps.

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

Time for a grown-up discussion about national strategy

Bee2I’m grateful to Andrew Carr, Rod Lyon and John Blaxland for taking up the debate about Australia’s role as a ‘top 20′ global power. It’s obvious we disagree on some fundamental points about designing the best strategy to keep Australia secure in a more risky and competitive world. There are echoes of this discussion around Julia Gillard’s optimistic Asian Century White Paper; Kevin Rudd’s apparently increasingly pessimistic view of regional security; the ‘China choice’ confection; and Tony Abbott’s instinctive globalism—notwithstanding his pre-election ‘more Jakarta and less Geneva’ slogan. Discomforting and novel as it may be, Australia urgently needs to have a grown-up discussion about strategy.

As my first blog post made clear, I take the view that Australia should reshape its defence and foreign policy around promoting a set of broadly-defined global interests. This would force a break with a regional policy priority that has shaped strategic thinking since the end of the Vietnam War. That focus started quite narrowly—in the 1980s defining Australian interests around the ‘inner arc’ of the Indonesian archipelago. Driven outward by crises, our definition of what constitutes our essential region has progressively widened to include Timor and the Pacific, a wider swathe of Southeast Asia and now—for some at least—the Indian Ocean and North Asia. Read more

Even while Australia’s default definition of ‘the region’ has widened, the debate naturally invites the tag of ‘Globalists versus Regionalists’. Readers should, however, demand more than labels. Here I set out some key elements that distinguish my (and Rod Lyon’s) ‘globalist’ view from a more strongly ‘regionalist’ Andrew Carr and John Blaxland.

Australia’s ‘top 20′ position draws on our G20 membership, itself a product of the size of the economy. Our economic and defence spending weight is a reality of where we stand relative to around 180 sovereign countries in the world. Calling Australia a top 20 country is a statement of fact, not policy intent. We don’t have a choice to opt out of this club. Andrew Carr argues that my view of Australia’s relative economic and strategic weight made us seem more like a globally-minded US than other G20 countries which, he contends, have more regionally-focused strategic policies.

That simply doesn’t ring true. The UK, France, and Germany—or any of the top 20 European states—certainly don’t argue that their strategic interests stop at the Atlantic. And it’s clear that Russia, China and Japan pursue strategic interests that keep them deeply invested in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Australia is distinctively the only one of the G20 countries that invests so much time in debating how it should narrow its interests. This is the geopolitical version of Australia’s much-derided cultural cringe. It’s high time we got over that self-limiting hurdle.

Part of the geopolitical cringe perspective insists that Australia can’t possibly have real strategic interests in regions beyond its immediate neighbourhood. According to this view if we deploy forces in the Middle East it must be because of the US alliance. But Australia has as much stake as any top 20 nation in preventing the spread of terrorism and in halting a sectarian descent into chaos in the Middle East. That could end in nuclear proliferation and major conventional wars. Far from being dragged into the current Iraq crisis by the US, it’s clear that Australia and a number of like-minded countries have seen it in their interests to encourage a reluctant President Obama to engage.

On this scale, the Middle East isn’t a second- or third-order priority as John Blaxland suggests. If only it were. But no amount of street violence in Dili has the potential to ruin Australia’s day as thoroughly as any of half a dozen trouble spots brewing in the Middle East. John’s quite right to worry that the international community has yet to develop a workable strategy to deal with ISIL, or Iraq, or Syria. But that’s a result of the enormity of the problem—and the likely scale of the solution.

A similar ‘regionalist’ argument holds that it’s somehow possible for Australia to be economically dependent on North Asia while having no interest or role in North Asian security. Such a view may have been sustainable in the 1970s when Japan was our biggest market and China had yet to begin economic reform. But strategic interest follows money as surely as bees follow pollen. Having global interests doesn’t mean that our regional interests are less important. Geography still matters—but it’s the connections rather than the barriers between regions that drive strategic change.

The hard reality is that Australia doesn’t have an option to opt out from the world’s biggest security concerns. Our engagement is driven by the weight of our direct interests. There’s no exit strategy from being a responsible global power. Being a good international citizen entails more than just being a casually benevolent player. Smaller countries (shall we say the smallest 150 of the 180) may claim that incapacity or disinterest makes them optional players in some strategic situations. But for the top 20 countries, including Australia, size confers an obligation to make meaningful contributions to the global order.

Peter Jennings is executive director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user TexasEagle.

Medical countermeasures: co-ordinated regional capability for global impact

Lance Cpl. Dylan Shuler, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense specialist and native of Bell Buckle, Tenn., helps Lance Cpl. Jarrod Roper, 22nd MEU CBRN specialist and native of Villa Rica, Ga., don his level "B" protective suit as the Marines prepare to search a subway for casualties and an unknown chemical or biological agent during hazardous material response training

Not having appropriate medical countermeasures (MCMs) to chemical, biological and radiological (CBR) threats, emerging infectious diseases or pandemics is the biggest risk to our health, economy and security. The current Ebola crisis demonstrates that in situations where there’s a limited amount of specific MCMs, Australia’s allies—traditionally, one of our main sources—won’t necessarily guarantee supply. It’s a timely reminder that Australia must be proactive in this area. A cornerstone for any response to a national health emergency will be ensuring our nation’s first responders (military, healthcare and emergency personnel) have an appropriate armamentarium to care for those affected.

MCMs include products such as therapeutics, vaccines, diagnostics and personal protective equipment. But the development of such products is highly specialised and their deployment is complex. Further, in preparing for potential emerging threats in our region, Australia must also consider availability of MCMs for a number of endemic diseases which aren’t considered a global MCM development priority. Read more

In early recognition of the need to burden-share MCM development and secure its own situation, Australia became a signatory to the CBR Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 2006. The other CBR MoU signatories include the Defence departments of the United States, United Kingdom and Canada. The Medical Countermeasures Consortium (MCMC) is a working group under the CBR MoU and includes the Health Departments of each of those nations. The purpose of the MCMC is to address defence and public health medical countermeasure requirements across all levels of technological readiness—from early-phase research and development through to advanced development—to assist with all-hazard preparedness and response of the participant countries. The emphasis of the MCMC is on the collaborative development of MCM against threats affecting civilian and military populations.

Since 2012, the Australian Departments of Defence and Health, represented by the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) and the Office of Health Protection (OHP), have been working with local biotechnology and medical-technology communities to identify, validate and develop national MCM-related capability and capacity. In 2013, DSTO commissioned a national audit of Australia’s MCM assets and product-development capabilities. A key recommendation from that audit was for the establishment of a public–private partnership to create a nexus between industry best-practice project/product development disciplines with relevant capabilities in government, universities, medical research institutes and the private sector. In September 2013, that proposed public–private partnership, Medical Countermeasure Products Australia (MCPA), was formed.

To date, the majority of achievements by MCPA have been accomplished through the small financial contributions of DSTO, the guidance of OHP and the in-kind efforts and goodwill of all MCPA stakeholders. The long-term aim of MCPA will be to develop leading-edge regulatory science and advanced development capabilities, and deploy those skills into activities that support keeping Australia secure. MCPA will also use its expertise to establish new drug development pathways and protocols globally, to accelerate the availability of new MCM products. By providing contemporary expertise in the evaluation, development, acquisition and deployment of MCMs, including drugs, vaccines, medical devices and diagnostics, MCPA will augment and enhance the current national preparedness and response plans by providing expert MCM product-development expertise to the Australian Health Protection Committee (AHPC) and the OHP .

MCPA has high visibility and support within the national and international MCM communities as it’s seen to be meshing a best-practice whole-of-government approach with contemporary corporate strategy. Other member countries of the MCMC have indicated they may replicate the MCPA business model within their own countries. A full business plan for MCPA has been developed and national decision makers have been briefed about the resources required for MCPA fully to realise its potential.

Australia is at a cross roads. It has a chance to co-ordinate its niche MCM capabilities and collaborate with the wider community to develop MCM products which address local, regional and international CBR threats, pandemics and emerging infectious diseases. Proactive leadership and a true partnership with the federal government will be the only way for MCPA to fulfil its objectives and deliver MCM product solutions and strategies for the benefit of civilian and military health. Australia has a real opportunity to contribute to the global MCM agenda.

Leigh Farrell is chairman of Steering Committee for Medical Countermeasure Products Australia and chief operating officer of d3 Medicine. Craig Rayner is chairman of Development Committee for Medical Countermeasure Products Australia and chief executive officer at d3 Medicine. Image courtesy of Flickr user Marines.

‘Jump jets’ for Australia?

One of the UK's first F-35B Lightning II aircraft takes off from Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

Today, ASPI released our report ‘Jump jets for the ADF?’ (watch the video interview with Ben Schreer here). It asks if there’s a good case for Australia to acquire F-35B Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) short take-off, vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft to operate from the two new Canberra-class landing helicopter docks (LHDs). The Abbott government has directed that this question be addressed in the development of the 2015 Defence White Paper (DWP). Reintroducing organic naval air power into the ADF would be a big strategic decision, not to mention a complex and expensive one. It’s therefore important to consider the circumstances in which such a capability would be worth pursuing. And it’s important to be aware not only of the direct costs but also of the potential risks and opportunity costs.

Because of the potential to launch STOVL jets from the Canberra-class LHD’s ‘ski-jump’ deck configuration, it’s tempting to see the LHD as a potential ‘mini aircraft carrier’. And with 27,000 tonnes displacement and 230 metres of deck, the LHDs are impressive warships. Carrier-based aviation could provide future Australian governments with greater military flexibility in regional and global contingencies. As well, modifying the ships for STOVL operations would open new opportunities for the ADF to train and (potentially) operate with the US Marine Corps. Read more

But on balance we conclude that the benefits from acquiring that capability would be marginal at best, wouldn’t be commensurate with the costs and other consequences for the ADF, and would potentially divert funding and attention from more valuable force-structure enhancements.

Despite their capacity to accommodate a number of STOVL aircraft, the LHDs are multi-purpose amphibious assault ships—not dedicated aircraft carriers. Because of their finite capacity, they can’t carry a full complement of helicopters, and amphibious troops with their vehicles and equipment, and simultaneously deploy a useful number of STOVL aircraft and additional support aircraft. Even in a ‘STOVL-only’ configuration, the LHD would face challenges in generating enough F-35B sorties continuously to protect itself and ships in company against a capable adversary. On the other hand, if the threat levels faced by an embarking amphibious force were low, it’s doubtful a handful of F-35Bs would really be needed.

There’d also be significant direct and indirect costs. It wouldn’t be just about spending money to adapt the LHDs for STOVL operations. If the government was indeed serious about using the LHD/STOVL as a full-time power-projection capability, the ADF would realistically require additional ships to support and protect it. It’s also worth keeping in mind that while the F-35B will be much more capable than the ‘Harrier’ STOVL aircraft, it’s technologically more challenging, more expensive and less capable in terms of combat range and weapons payload than other JSF variants. Even a ‘best case’, conservative cost estimate means the government would need to spend at least $12 billion (acquisition plus through-life costs) on two F-35B squadrons.

That’s a lot of money, both in absolute terms and opportunities foregone to acquire other defence capabilities. For instance, would the F-35B acquisition come at the expense of the RAAF’s F-35A fleet? What about the impact on other critical capabilities such as more-capable future frigates, enhanced special forces, ballistic missile defence, or V-22 Osprey helicopters?

Finally, what are the circumstances in which such a capability might be used? And could other capabilities achieve a similar or sufficient effect? Overall, we struggle to see where the LHD/STOVL option would really justify the costs. When it comes to ADF tasks in the defence of Australia, the additional benefit from STOVL fighters seems to be marginal at best. In the lower-level threat environment of the South Pacific, the capability would be an ‘overkill’. Operations contributing to the defence of Southeast Asia would depend on the nature of the contingency and whether the use of land-based airpower would be sufficient. Further, beyond the reach of Australian land-based aircraft, the challenge of defending the LHD against a capable adversary would be acute.

Last, it’s difficult to see how the LHD/STOVL option could make an important contribution to US coalition operations. There are many other, more effective ways for the ADF to contribute to future US campaigns in Asia and beyond. While the LHDs could be modified to allow STOVL operations by US Marines during joint operations, this option still runs the risk of being tokenism.

That’s why we think the cost-benefit analysis doesn’t support an LHD/STOVL option. The potential costs and risks are significant. The scenarios in which the capability would be realistically required and could make an important operational impact are vague. Therefore, the 2015 Defence White Paper shouldn’t announce a decision or intention to acquire ‘jump jets’ for the ADF. However, if carrier-based aviation is indeed deemed necessary to support a more muscular Australian military posture in the future, the government should consider acquiring a dedicated aircraft carrier, although an earlier ASPI publication has shown that the costs would be significant.

Richard Brabin-Smith is a Visiting Fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre of the Australian National University. Ben Schreer is Senior Analyst for Defence Strategy at ASPI. Image courtesy of UK Ministry of Defence.

ASPI suggests

PredatorCSIS has just released its 2015 Global Forecast which examines the crises and opportunities likely to arise in the year ahead. But you’ll have to flick past chapters on Putin’s new Russia and US influence in the Middle East before you get to the section on Asia, which begins with an essay on Asian perceptions of the rebalance (PDF).

What would you do with a cool US$180 million? To put the price of the next generation aircraft in perspective, Defense One editor Patrick Tucker uses cost estimates generated by NASA’s chief scientist to find five things you can buy for the price of an F-35. Focusing on trade-offs in national security, Tucker’s list includes boosting literacy (and he explains why this is military-related) and building a robotic air force.

It’s been a year since the International Court of Justice revised its decision on who—Thailand or Cambodia—owned the disputed Preah Vihear temple but, as Greg Raymond notes, not a lot has happened on implementing the revised judgement. For more on the challenges in intra-ASEAN border issues, keep reading his explanation for the lag here. Also on Cambodia, with the ASEAN Economic Community set to be established in 2015 (but likely to be delayed), read Heng Pheakdey’s piece on how to unlock the country’s economic growth. Read more

Cash doesn’t rule everything around China, writes Joseph Nye. While the World Bank has announced China’s economy will surpass the US’ (in PPP terms) this year, Nye argues differences in structure and sophistication between the economies, not to mention an ageing work force, mean China won’t challenge US economic power for some time.

Next are two items from the Center for a New American Security: the first by Ely Ratner asks, can China make peace in the South China Sea? It’s part of a larger collection of essays penned by American and Chinese foreign policy experts that explores the different visions that the US and China have for Asia-Pacific security order.

The second is a brief piece by Michael Horowitz, Paul Scharre and Kelley Sayler on lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) and the United Nations. LAWS can select and engage targets without further human intervention, and while they don’t exist today, read why the authors argue it’s better to discuss the legal, policy, moral and ethical issues associated with them sooner rather than later.

Also on technology, the Philae lander on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has beamed back images of what comets look like, but what do they sound like? Like Predator, apparently. Although sound doesn’t travel in space, what you’ll hear are variations in the magnetic field around the comet converted into frequencies within the human hearing range. Keep reading here about what the scientists think are making the alien clicks and growls.

Wilfred Owen’s poetry, the New Dinkum Aussie Dictionary and the novel Trainspotting are among the books banned from detainees at Guantánamo Bay. VICE has published the thoughts of 14 writers, some of whom made the Gitmo blacklist, on why the Pentagon has beef with some of their books.

Lastly, if you need a quick primer on what ‘net neutrality’ means, look no further than this comic by The Oatmeal that breaks down the issue in simple yet colourful language.


Check out Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Rafaello Pantucci discussing China’s foreign policy in Afghanistan, hosted by Loopcast (42mins).


Canberra: How hierarchic was the historical East Asian system? Dr Feng Zhang looks back to ‘early modern’ East Asia (1368–1800) and China’s ties with Korea, Japan and the Mongols to answer this question. Head to ANU’s Hedley Bull Centre on Monday 17 November at 12.30pm, details here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Flickr user [White bear].

Gender equality in the ADF: Morrison’s approach

The Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison, AO, addresses the media on Thursday, 13 June 2013 in relation to civilian police and Defence investigations into allegations of unacceptable behaviour by Army members.

A sudden hush came over the audience. The army commander, Lieutenant General David Morrison, had been addressing a packed amphitheatre at the ANU’s National Security College. His topic? Gender equality (not, note, equity) and female representation in leadership roles across the ADF. A large number of people, mostly women, from across the public service, defence and academe, had turned out to see him. They weren’t disappointed. His performance had been exactly what they’d hoped for. Dynamic and forceful, the inspiring words of a ‘conviction’ leader rang through the lecture theatre.

But now the steady flow of words suddenly paused. ‘It was my approach to the army that cost me my first marriage’, Morrison insisted. There was pain in his words. He paused. For a second the audience was sharing the room with another human, rather than a general. Then, almost imperceptibly, his back stiffened and he carried on.

‘You don’t want non-competitive people in the military’, Morrison announced. ‘We want people who will win’. His voice had become quiet and clear as he outlined the reasons behind his position. Recognising the contribution women can make to the military is all about strengthening and invigorating the institution; making it better. It has nothing to do with political correctness. Read more

Morrison’s now become indelibly identified with this issue; but it wasn’t always so. His progression—why he seized this particular issue; how he used it to spur cultural change; and how he nonetheless maintained the Army’s crucial operational focus—will provide a remarkable case study for years to come. It’s a story about how to achieve one of the most difficult things: organisational change.

Morrison related how he was suddenly faced with his challenge just six months into a three-year term as Army commander. He’d became aware of sexist behaviour in the ranks: no surprise there. It would’ve been easy for him to do nothing. Going head-to-head and criticising the behaviour by uploading a video onto YouTube certainly wasn’t the obvious response, but the general explained why it was a crucial one.

‘I decided there was a limit to the number of things I could achieve [as Army commander]’, Morrison said, ‘but this was something I could do’. And he has. The commander doesn’t deny that injustice against women still exists, but he hopes he’s banished the ‘unconscious bias’, the prejudice that no one notices because it’s present everywhere. The changes are significant.

No one pretends everything is fixed. Indeed, one mother in the audience (who’s employed by Defence) insisted that she wouldn’t want either of her girls to join up. Morrison didn’t try to convince her all the Army’s problems are fixed. ‘But unless I compete for your daughters’, he said, ‘they’ll go to Telstra, or the Commonwealth Bank, or perhaps somewhere even worse’. Morrison paused. ‘They might even join the Navy…’

Laughter rippled through the hall. It was a light-hearted response but it caught the tone of his speech perfectly. The army commander wasn’t saying the problem didn’t exist (the typical defence response). Instead he was admitting the issue and outlining what he was doing to address the predicament. This is the element of Morrison’s response that is so refreshing.

Instead of attempting to deny the problem, or cover it up, Morrison’s embraced it. He’s insisted this is a challenge that he can, and must, deal with. Engagement has become the key to moving on and resolving problems: identifying the issue, admitting it publicly, and outlining a clear process to redress the grievances and prevent its recurrence.

His speech possessed more detail than can be outlined here. He talked about how he changed the recruiting advertisements so they no longer showed women charging at sandbags and bayoneting them. He spoke of targets but without diminution of standards. Finally—crucially—he emphasised that the changes he’s ushering in are to increase the organisation’s ability to complete its mission.

The remarkable success of Morrison’s project can be measured by the way so many others have taken it on as their own.

Nic Stuart is a columnist with The Canberra Times. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Reader response: foreign aid, geopolitics and perverse incentives

Money on a HookI commend Charles Miller for writing on the important and under-examined relationship between our development assistance and broader international goals and settings. I’m puzzled, however, by his leap from the imperfectability of foreign aid to a declaration that it doesn’t work, especially when donated for strategic reasons.

Almost all aid offered by OECD donors such as ourselves is ultimately provided for some mix of both humanitarian and strategic motives. In Australia, a third purpose—supporting domestic commercial interests—was formally removed in 1997. But even at the height of the subsequent ‘One Clear Objective’ phase of our aid approach, a key reason for focusing on poverty reduction was to break the link between underdevelopment, insecurity, and instability in countries that are important to us. Read more

Of course that argument might seem like a self-licking ice-cream if you accept the proposition that foreign aid doesn’t assist, and may even harm, poverty alleviation. But few experts believe that. Divining whether development assistance helped pull some countries out of poverty or made life in other poor countries less abject than it might have been is notoriously difficult and not illuminated much by the absence of aid in a few unusual cases such as Somaliland. True, some scholars such as William Easterly suggest foreign aid has little or no net positive effect. Still, others claim it has near-miraculous transformative powers. Most experts can be found in the middle of that spectrum, arguing for good aid and against bad aid.

Even if our assistance didn’t work to improve health, education, infrastructure, and governance outcomes—so failing to promote regional growth and stability or peace and prosperity—it could still work instrumentally to advance our national interest in strategic access, influence, and soft power sway. While Joseph Nye feels the strongest form of his concept of soft power is what makes a country attractive when it isn’t trying, he suggests deliberate charm-offensives (‘smart power’) involving all the levers of government, including public diplomacy and aid can be powerful too.

What then of Charles’ specific worries that recipient country politicians will steal, waste, or not bother to raise tax revenue that would have been used to acquire services provided by donors; that they’ve an interest in keeping their nations poor to keep the aid flowing; or that they’ll tell us where to shove our governance principles if they know their cooperation or stability is important to us? Well, in practice none of those concerns are as simple as that. Most developing world leaders, like their Western counterparts, are driven by a complex range of noble, venal, nationalistic, and self-serving impulses—inadequately explained by sweeping generalisations that all are kleptocrats. Once-inspiring leaders like Mugabe can go rotten while others who’d be turned away from Transparency International (if only they weren’t treasurer of the local branch) may pursue national, as well as their own, interests more energetically and imaginatively than purer technocrats. And even where some worry our national objectives could put us over a barrel if we wanted to say no to a dubious aid project in a country we want to do well for strategic as well as sentimental and altruistic reasons, donors retain considerable clout. A degree of mutual dependence can also promote a more genuine and equal partnership; we don’t have all the answers. In PNG, for example, our influence is still significant. True, it plunged around 16 September 1975—that was the point of Independence—but it has been up and down since then, rather than steadily downward.

I hope Charles contributes further in this area where much thinking remains to be done, especially in relation to regional shaping and conflict prevention. While he mentions the poverty-busting power of remittances (which now generate a greater proportion of the financial flows to developing countries than foreign aid) no one, to my knowledge, has made the strong security case that surely exists for greater Pacific labour mobility into Australia, for example. But it’ll take more than abstract thought experiments if we want to get beyond let-them-eat-theory prescriptions for helping the region’s poor and safeguarding our own regional interests.

Karl Claxton is an analyst at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user Tax Credits.

Economic diplomacy alone won’t make China a leader

Leadership can’t simply be bought with economic largesse.

Recently the growing rivalry between the United States and China seems to be spilling over into the economic and institutional arenas. The US is leading the push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a new regional free-trade agreement which excludes China. And Beijing appears to be implementing a new strategy for transforming its own economic strength into regional leadership.

Whereas China previously used bilateral channels to build relationships and acquire influence, it’s now leading multilateral initiatives, headlined by the US$50 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and US$40 billion Silk Road Fund—the latter planning to build a network of trade-and-transport infrastructure linking China to Central and South Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Those initiatives have the potential to eclipse the World Bank and Asian Development Bank as the dominant multilateral lending institutions in Asia, shaking the foundations of the regional order set up by the United States following World War II.

Beijing is also pushing back on the multilateral trade front, securing an agreement from APEC leaders for a two-year study of a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific. The FTAAP could become a direct competitor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the central economic component of the Obama Administration’s rebalance to Asia. Read more

There’s a clear strategic logic to China’s multilateral approach. The existing system is a product of US leadership and undeniably favours American interests, but it’s also open, rule-based, and structured around institutions. As John Ikenberry has argued, countries accepted American leadership in part because they were given a say in how the regional order was built and maintained.

China has recognised that it can’t join (or replace) the United States as a regional leader without offering a degree of continuity with current arrangements. States around the region have flourished under the stability, certainty and reciprocity of the existing order, and are unwilling to give up its cooperative and collaborative aspects, even if they’d receive billions in development assistance in return.

Leadership can’t simply be bought with economic largesse. Economic incentives are certainly a good way to begin a political realignment, but they’re rarely enough to conclude one. An essential ingredient is lacking—security. The American order ultimately endured because it made the majority of governments and peoples in the region feel secure (admittedly with some notable exceptions). Washington’s great achievement was to lead without seeming to threaten countries’ core interests in sovereignty, security and autonomy. The alliance network was a critical ingredient in that accomplishment, not just because it offered security against external threats, but because alliances helped America manage its bilateral relationships, providing reassurance and making American power more ‘predictable and user-friendly’.

Countries will oppose the leadership of a great power under whom, for whatever reason, they feel insecure. And despite its lucrative economic offerings, China is making many in the region nervous. Escalation of China’s maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas, Xi Jinping’s declaration that ‘security in Asia should be maintained by Asians themselves’, and outbursts by senior officials at regional fora, all raise doubts over whether China’s displacing of the United States would necessarily be in the region’s best interests.

Reassurance is the key to leadership. If it wants to lead, China needs to convince its neighbours that it doesn’t pose a threat to their fundamental security interests. The mantle of leadership will burden the rising power with a series of costly choices. Will China exercise power forcefully and arbitrarily, or with restraint and rule-based commitments? Will China act to maximise its short-term interests, or make beneficent sacrifices in the name of long-term stability? Is China a security threat, or can it be a security provider?

No one said leading was easy.

Darren Lim recently received a PhD from Princeton University and is a visitor in the Department of International Relations at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific. Image courtesy of Flickr user David Dennis.

Australian Antarctic policy: an update

Kangaroo over AntarcticaThe recent Senate report, Australia’s future activities and responsibilities in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic waters, released on 29 October, was—to some extent—a lost opportunity.  The timing of its release, virtually coinciding with that of the Abbott government’s commissioned twenty-year strategic plan for Antarctica, meant the Senate’s findings lost some of their impact. In all likelihood, they would’ve grabbed greater attention if the two hadn’t overlapped. But the fact that the findings of both studies reinforce each other in almost every way lends strength to the arguments presented in both documents.

I’d welcome the Senate Committee’s proposal that the government examine the potential for further use of non-vessel technologies, such as UAV’s, including consideration of the potential application of new Defence assets, to support law enforcement and border patrolling in the Southern Ocean. I’d also endorse the Committee’s emphasis on strengthening funding for science. Read more

I’d question, however, its recommendation to develop and implement a Southern Ocean mapping program. A better priority would be mapping the Australian Antarctic Territory and its near seabed. But there’s a strong case that even this task should be down the list from other science priorities, such as understanding changes in the Southern Ocean and their impact on Australian and global climates.

I was pleased that the Senate Committee recommended an ‘interagency working group be established to review Australia’s current and proposed marine assets and their utilisation, and to explore the potential costs and benefits of a national fleet approach to the acquisition and management of Australian vessels’. Here, it appears to have accepted the thrust of the submission made by Sam Bateman and myself on the need for a national fleet approach to our polar priorities in research, logistics and search-and-rescue. (Submission 2.)

We argued that there’s a hole in our current national fleet: the lack of a decent offshore patrol vessel. Neither the Customs’ Cape class nor the Navy’s likely Armidale class replacement vessels are suited for operations in the Southern Ocean. They don’t have the range, seakeeping qualities, and nor do they have a helicopter: the ability to carry a helicopter, particularly one that can be stowed in a hangar to protect it from weather, is an essential capability for sovereignty protection and law enforcement tasks down south.

I’m a bit more cautious, however, on the Committee’s recommendation that Australia ‘explores the possibility of concluding new agreements with neighbouring and like-minded countries to cooperate in patrol and deterrence in the Southern Ocean, based upon the example of the arrangements presently in place with France’.

The Maritime Cooperation Treaty on Surveillance in the Southern Ocean with France entered into force on 1 February 2005. But it was very specific. It was aimed at combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing around Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) and the French territory of Kerguelen Island, that adjoins the HIMI EEZ. It was also aimed at strengthening Australian and French collaboration in CCAMLR. It came about because Australia and France faced a joint economic and political problem. That’s not really the same for any other of our near neighbours, including New Zealand.

It’d be more appropriate for Australia to promote multilateral cooperation around specific issues—such as sustainability of the Southern Ocean, marine and Antarctic management, port state control, and flags of convenience.

Finally, I was pleased to see that the Committee’s report recommended the appointment of an Australian Antarctic and Southern Ocean Ambassador to ‘coordinate whole-of-government policy and to provide senior leadership for the promotion of Australia’s interests and role domestically and internationally’. That’s a suggestion proposed seven years ago in ASPI’s first study of our Antarctic policy settings.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user Fransisco Martins.

A G20 power ‘down under’: getting the balance right

A platoon from the 3rd Battalion Group provides security to the Dili Fire Service.  (Date taken: 02 June 2006)

The debate about Australia’s place in the global geostrategic equation, as reflected in the different posts of Peter Jennings, Andrew Carr and Rod Lyon, is a fascinating and important one. Peter and Rod are right that Australia has a vested interest in a rules-based global order and that interest sometimes demands military contributions beyond Australia’s immediate neighbourhood. My sense though is that the criticism levelled at Andrew’s stance misses the point.

Most readers of The Strategist, I presume, understand the significance of Australia playing a prominent role as a good international citizen. Indeed, Australian defence white papers (DWPs) have repeatedly made clear that—to paraphrase—Australia’s primary responsibility is to protect itself, then its neighbourhood and finally, where possible, contribute to global coalitions further afield.

Australian prime ministers have tended to have a clear understanding of what that meant. Malcolm Fraser saw it allowing a niche engineer contribution to a UN force in Namibia. Bob Hawke followed through on Fraser’s plans for Namibia when the Cold War thawed in 1989. Paul Keating and his Defence Minister, Kim Beazley, responded to calls for intervention in Somalia and Rwanda. As Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans led the charge in seeking a peace agreement to break the impasse in Cambodia in 1993. But those interventions all took place when Australia’s neighbourhood was remarkably stable. Read more

Thereafter John Howard endorsed Australia’s intervention in the late 1990s and beyond alongside New Zealand in Bougainville, Solomon Islands and East Timor. In each case Australia’s contribution was well defined with a clear end-state in mind. Interestingly, the closer to Australia’s shores, the more resources and attention were devoted to making a meaningful contribution. Further afield, Australian governments, since the Suez crisis of 1956 if not before, have tended to be more circumspect.

Even in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, when the imperatives to contribute to the so-called Global War on Terror were at a height, Howard sought to demarcate tightly the size, scope and time-frame of Australia’s military contributions, conscious of the need to keep his powder dry for the ‘arc of instability’, as the neighbourhood was sometimes described.

Only reluctantly did the government agree to return to Afghanistan and Iraq and then, once again, with a tightly-defined mandate, in support of its main ally, and with a clear and identifiable end-state. Contributions there were focused primarily on alliance management and secondly on global security. Making a meaningful contribution locally also gradually increased in importance as vindication, at least, for the sacrifice of those who died or were injured pursuing those objectives.

Even then, Australian policymakers found themselves so distracted by the Middle East they missed the brewing troubles in East Timor that precipitated another military intervention there in May 2006. A force was cobbled together and sent, but with little idea initially as to what the problem was or how it could be resolved. Ever since 1942, events in our region have tended to flare up while we’ve been preoccupied with second- or third-tier priorities (using DWP metrics as a guide) in places like the Middle East.

Australians subsequently left Iraq and scaled back markedly in Afghanistan, only to be dragged back in to assist in Iraq—and this time into an even murkier set of circumstances. Today the coalition is dealing with a strange set of bed-fellows. Its so-called strategy is little more than an operational plan. And in the absence of a grand bargain between Saudi Arabia and Iran over how to split the spoils between the Shia and Sunni worlds in and around Iraq, Australia and the coalition are spending enormous financial and material resources to strike at one head of a regional hydra—that is, the latest manifestation of militant jihadist Islamism.

Today the Global War on Terror looks tired—and devoid of good ideas about how to make a meaningful contribution to the long-term future of the Middle East. It’s not even clear why the West feels the need to lead the charge again, particularly when the adjoining states have a greater vested interest in resolving the crises and when the drain on US resources leaves it vulnerable elsewhere.

In the meantime, the geostrategic equation in East Asia has changed markedly. The rise of China and the competition between the great powers of Asia—including Russia, Japan and India—point to pressing concerns closer to Australia that should be, more than ever, the focus of attention. It’s in the closer parts of the Indo-Pacific region that Australia has traditionally been able to make a meaningful contribution to security and stability. It’s in this region that Australia’s Defence Cooperation Plan has focused its investment in resources and relationships for generations.

Yet today’s ADF is staffed by people with little knowledge of or experience in the region. Critics might say we can walk and chew gum—participate in an open-ended war in Iraq and be prepared for contingencies closer to home—while keeping up the growing regional defence engagement priorities. The jury’s out on that. Experience in May 2006, let alone 1942, suggests we shouldn’t be so cocky about reaching too far beyond our neighbourhood.

John Blaxland is a senior fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Cyber wrap

China has allegedly ‘gone postal’ this week, stealing the personal details of the US Postal Service’s 800,000 employees.

We’re starting this week off in the States with the FBI successfully crossing off a name on their most wanted cyber list. John Gordon Baden, wanted in connection with the identify theft of 40,000 individuals, was apprehended in Tijuana, Mexico. He and his co-conspirators allegedly used the stolen details to siphon millions of dollars from victims’ bank accounts by buying expensive products and taking out loans. Baden’s arrest was the result of several anonymous tip-offs and quick work on the ground by the Tijuana Municipal Police. The collaboration serves as a good example of what can be achieved through international collaboration on the cybercrime-fighting front.

Thousands of international delegates and media representatives are streaming into Brisbane this week ahead of the G20 Summit. Large international summits have proven to be attractive targets for both state-backed intelligence gathering and hacktivist operations. A phishing campaign was used during a G20 Finance Minister’s meeting in Paris 2011 to try and gain access to sensitive information. During the London Olympics plans were also laid to target critical national infrastructure. The Australian Signals Directorate’s CSOC has released a handy Protect Notice on the G20 Summit for Australian government attendees, but it also contains sound advice for all those attending. Read more

China has allegedly ‘gone postal’ this week, stealing the personal details of the US Postal Service’s 800,000 employees. Whilst the Postal Service may seem like a strange target for the Chinese government, ICPC’s international fellow James Lewis has a simple explanation for the Washington Post. ‘They’re just looking for big pots of data on government employees’, Lewis said. ‘For the Chinese, this is probably a way of building their inventory on U.S. persons for counterintelligence and recruitment purposes.’ The information stolen included addresses, dates of birth and social security numbers. But the infiltrators seemed to be motivated by intelligence gathering, not crime or monetary gain. That led investigators to connect the attack to more traditional government-backed hackers driven by espionage.

Keen not to be left out, hackers linked to the Malaysian government have allegedly crashed an American environmental news website. The website had run an article publicising a new book critical of Abdul Taib Mahmud, a senior politician in Malaysia’s ruling coalition, the Barisan Nasional. The attack follows earlier threats to a domestic news organisation based in Sarawak that had reported on government corruption.

A man in the United Kingdom has been convicted on charges of posting a ‘malicious web link’ and encouraging a DDOS attack after he lent support to an Anonymous campaign in 2012 via his Twitter feed. The attack brought down the website of the UK Home Office and targeted the website of Home Secretary Theresa May. The man admitted supporting the group but argued that he hadn’t posted the links and his Twitter feed had been hacked.

Over in Vienna, the OSCE just wants us all to get along. Cyber Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) were the latest topic of discussion in a meeting held in the Austrian capital on Friday. Convened by the Swiss OSCE Chairmanship, the group met to discuss the implementation of a set of CBMs decided upon by the OSCE last year and to seek the advice of several NGO and CNI providers. The group was also keen to engage with representatives from other regional groupings including Asia.

Ambassador Benno Laggner, Head of the Division for Security Policy, at the Swiss Foreign Ministry explained: ‘Cyberspace constitutes an area with much room for speculation, doubt, and ambiguity. The use of ICTs for malicious purposes is not directly visible and it is even less tangible’. ‘Therefore, confidence-building measures designed to increase transparency and trust are crucial in order to reduce the danger of miscalculation, misperception and misunderstanding.’

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

US–China cyber relations: not a new Cold War

Cold War One - IMG_4192Describing cyber activities by the US and China as a new Cold War in cyberspace is hyperbolic and inaccurate. The relationship between the US and China and the international environment for this relationship are very different from the Cold War, when relations and contacts with the Soviet Union were extremely limited and there was no economic interdependence or interconnection. There have been none of the threats, ideological challenges or proxy conflicts that characterised the Cold War.

The US has sought to avoid a military focus in its cybersecurity efforts. It has cast China’s cyber espionage as a commercial matter (Treasury Secretary Lew has told China’s President that cyberattacks are ‘a very serious threat to our economic interests’). For example, the US indictments of People’s Liberation Army officers for cyber espionage focused intentionally on trade and economic crimes to avoid any implication that this was a military contest.

China has never used ‘force’ (defined as acts of violence) against the US in cyberspace; it will use cyberattack against US military forces in any clash, but espionage isn’t war—if it were grounds for war, the US would find itself at war with many countries. Both China and the US have implicitly avoided truly damaging attacks or military confrontation in cyberspace, each restricting its activities to espionage. Espionage isn’t a crime under international law, and it’s not in the US interest to make it so. Dealing with China’s cyber espionage requires a sustained effort to construct norms and persuade China to observe them, to create consequences for Chinese actions, and to improve cyber defences in the interim. Read more

This is a much more complex relationship than the Cold War. Managing the trajectory of US–China relations to avoid conflict will be difficult, and Chinese misconceptions about international affairs and American intentions only complicate the task. Similar misconceptions about economic warfare on the US side don’t help to manage the relationship. China’s best seen as the most assertive and the most potent of a number of new powers that challenge the existing international order and the American role in it. The long-term goal for the US and other Western nations is to bring China into the international ‘system’ of rules that govern state behaviour, and that means persuading it to get its ‘cheating’ in trade and in cyberspace under control. Some economic tools, such as sanctions, would be useful in applying pressure to China, but military force has very little utility.

Gigantic, secret conspiracies are a staple of pulp fiction. In practice, they’re impossible to sustain on any grand scale. Belief in a Chinese grand strategy of economic warfare against the US assumes that beneath China’s almost chaotic and hypercompetitive growth there’s some hidden agenda, and that China could develop a secret plan to achieve it and keep the plan secret across four different leaders for more than 25 years.

The frequent references to a Chinese grand strategy reflect an ingenuous effort to explain Chinese actions. They also reflect the deep unease China’s growth has created, given the discrepancy between its promises of a peaceful rise and its acts of assertive self-interest. When the Chinese accuse the US of having a grand strategy, it amuses most Americans. The US doesn’t have one, but it does have consistent interests and a common approach to problems shaped by its ideology and politics. The same is true for China.

We can impose an artificial order on a complex international problem by ascribing Chinese actions to economic warfare, but the reality, unfortunately, is much more difficult. In struggling to define conflict in an era in which the use of force is more expensive, more dangerous, and therefore less often resorted to by states, the war metaphor can be appealing, but it’s not a helpful guide for policy. We could argue that China is simultaneously attempting to build its economy and weaken opponents, but that would involve damaging its major markets and sources of finance.

If our choice in explaining Chinese behaviour is between commercial motives and deliberate geopolitical strategy, the former better explains actions and events.

James A. Lewis is an ASPI-ICPC International Fellow. He is senior fellow and director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at CSIS, where he writes on technology, security, and the international economy. Image courtesy of Flickr user Jeroen Elfferich.

This is an excerpt from ASPI’s latest Special Report, China’s cyberpower: international and domestic priorities, released today.