Oz and Indonesia

Australia and Indonesia

When Australia thinks strategy, it quickly comes to Indonesia.

So it was when the Howard Government was mulling the 2000 Defence White Paper. The National Security Committee of Cabinet was grilling the defenceniks: ‘If Indonesia can’t invade us, why should we buy all these military toys?’

One official produced a map, pointed to the archipelago and island chain arcing across Australia’s north, and asked: ‘What do you see?’

‘That’s Indonesia.’

‘Yes, sir, today it’s Indonesia. Just think what it’d mean if Indonesia broke up and instead this map showed three new Bangladeshes and a couple of new oil-rich Bruneis.’ Read more

I’ve heard various versions of this yarn, but having asked some who should have been there when it supposedly happened, I get no confirmation. It’s a tale yet to achieve the truth it deserves, illustrating how Indonesia directs Australia’s regional dreams or dominates its nightmares.

The vision of a splintering Indonesia goes to the nightmare side of current Australian imaginings. On Suharto’s fall, the horror was of Indonesia succumbing to centrifugal forces as Yugoslavia did after Tito. Instead of that nightmare, Indonesia conjured up a dream experiment—one of the world’s most ambitious efforts at political devolution and regional autonomy.

The doomsayers in Jakarta see little more than a devolution of corruption, setting a course to splinter the Republic. Joko Widodo’s arrival is an extraordinarily positive answer to that lament. Devolution meant an engineer who created a furniture business could become mayor of Solo in 2005, then step up to be elected Jakarta’s governor in 2012, and next month will be sworn in as Indonesia’s seventh president. Indonesians have elected ‘one of us’ as their leader; that democratic expression of the idea of ‘us’ is a powerful unifying force.

As the previous column noted, add a great caveat to the statement that Indonesia and Australia are neighbours with absolutely nothing in common. We now share something vital and defining—democracy. Add to that a further fundamental point—both agree on the regional and strategic importance of a unified and strong Indonesia. Indeed, the fact of a democratic Indonesia should help Australia accept its relative decline—stress relative—compared to the growing wealth and power of its giant neighbour.

Stressing Australia’s belief in a unified Indonesia is a point worth making. It ain’t always been so. Through the 1950s and 1960s, Canberra would have been happy with bits of Indonesia splitting away: because of fears about Indonesia turning to communism; when the CIA was shipping arms to support regional rebellions in Sumatra and Sulawesi; during Konfrontasi when British and Australian soldiers were fighting Indonesian troops; and when the Dutch were trying to hang on to West Papua.

Australia’s leading role in the one successful bit of splitism—the creation of East Timor— doesn’t fit with the mindset of the 1950s and 60s. Right up to the moment that East Timor voted for independence, Australia was sincere—in statement and belief—in calling for East Timor to remain within the Republic. The great irony is that Jakarta’s elite is convinced Australia was always plotting against it in Timor; that conviction misreads the clash between popular sentiment in Oz and Canberra’s judgement of national interest.

Australia’s commitment to a coherent rather than a fractured Indonesia is expressed in one phrase that is pregnant with meaning for Canberra strategists. That’s the statement that any military threat to Australia will come ‘from or through’ Indonesia. The idea has a long history in Australian thinking, dating from that moment of existential fright delivered by Japan in WWII. It’s a powerful idea that can shift in shape and colour. Thus, the 1947 Strategic Appreciation noted:

Having established herself in Indonesia, Russia could attack the mainland of Australia under cover of land based aircraft. Hence, it follows that Australia is vitally interested in this line of approach.

The most famous expression of ‘from or through’ was Paul Dibb’s 1986 Review of Australian Defence:

In defence terms, Indonesia is our most important neighbour. The Indonesian archipelago forms a protective barrier to Australia’s northern approaches. We have a common interest in regional stability, free from interference by potentially hostile external powers. At the same time, we must recognise that, because of its proximity, the archipelago to our north is the area from or through which a military threat to Australia could most easily be posed.

Australia wants an Indonesia strong enough not to be porous or splitable​, but uninterested in using its strength for ​anything nasty.

The Oz dream is to go beyond ‘from or through’ to find ‘a shield to Australia’s north.’ Australia will stand with ASEAN in the fervent wish for Jokowi’s huge success.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalist fellow. Image courtesy of Flickr user Juan Manuel Garcia.

ASPI suggests

I’m kicking off today’s list with a piece by ANU’s Dr Mathew Davies who cogently argues that the anti-IS and pro-Iraq strategy of the US needs to consider a post-Iraq Middle East. Systematically outlining the history of the Iraqi state as a construct with external backing and authoritarian government, he notes, ‘Central government, in the absence of open authoritarian repression and at least the benign neglect of Western powers, has never exerted political authority across Iraq organically. Yet the US strategy rests entirely on the vain hope that this time will be different.’ Instead, the US is sowing the seeds of more violence and trauma to come. Keep reading here.

‘Ukraine raises at least two issues that may inspire new thinking on strategic theory. One is the problem of recognizing success when it involves something less than victory.’ This observation comes from Joshua Rovner, writing on the Washington Post blog, Monkey Cage, on what Ukraine means for how we study war. It’s worth reading for its ideas on identifying success, and how the relationship between strategy and grand strategy means the Asia pivot has constrained US action over Ukraine. Sticking with Ukraine, here’s a new Loopcast podcast on the latest events with Dr Andrew Michta.

The latest issue of Security Challenges contains several articles of interest to our readers, particularly one by David Schaefer on the impact of the information revolution on Australia’s foreign intelligence assessment process, and another by Shandon Harris-Hogan on the influence of family on the recruitment and retention of Australian jihadists. Read more

Also on Australian jihadists, Andrew Zammit examines why not all proposed new changes to national security legislation are necessary or justified. While many of the reforms stemmed from separate inquiries highlighting legislative shortcomings, he notes that the proposed reversal of the burden of proof—requiring Australians returning to Iraq and Syria to provide they weren’t involved in terrorism—departs from our legal traditions, is unlikely to address the threat effectively, and risks delegitimising necessary counter-terrorism efforts.

Turning now to one of Australia’s key security partners in Northeast Asia, Tsjeng Zhizaho Henrick has an RSIS Commentary on the limits of Prime Minister Abe’s ambitions in reinterpreting Japan’s constitution. He challenges the idea of Japan’s ‘right-wing drift’ and argues that public protests against ‘remilitarisation’ and a drop in Abe’s popularity may well constrain passage of further legislation.

For this week’s technology pick, here’s a self-assembling, walking robot designed by a team of Harvard engineers. Inspired by origami and the folding of insects’ wings, the robot can build itself in four minutes. But it’s not a true transformer: once the robot folds into its desired shape via internal heating elements, the joints cool and harden. The long-term goal is for the durable origami-bot to be used on the battlefield or in space.


For alliance wonks, CSIS recently hosted Dr Park Jin who delivered a Korean perspective on US–South Korea–Japan cooperation. Audio available here (duration: 1 hour 24mins).


Canberra: Professor Andrei Lankov will tackle the myth that North Korea is the world’s ‘last Stalinist economy’. He’ll discuss the DPRK’s private economy and its impact, Hedley Bull Centre ANU, Thursday 21 August at 3pm.

AIIA ACT will host Dr Marcus Mietzner who’ll present on Indonesia’s recent presidential elections and how democracy survived, Thursday 21 August at 6pm.

Melbourne: What’s the future of the US–Australian alliance? Hosted by AIIA VIC, ASPI Chair Stephen Loosley will discuss the changing strategic environment and its consequences for ANZUS, Wednesday 20 August at 6pm.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Flickr user Kristian Bjornard.

Fragilities in the French Pacific: New Caledonia broaches its future

Noumea awaits its future

New Caledonia, our French neighbour, sits just off the Queensland coast, but well off our strategic radar screen. Our Defence White Paper 2013 doesn’t mention it, nor even France’s role in the South Pacific. However, France’s 2013 Defence White Paper refers to its political and maritime power deriving from its Pacific ‘collectivities’ (New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna, Clipperton) and to strategic collaboration with Australia. It’s worth evaluating how, and to what degree, France’s Pacific role intersects with Australia’s strategic interests.

France has kept its Pacific collectivities out of the news for decades, implementing measures to improve its regional image after stopping nuclear testing in French Polynesia and negotiating an end to bloodshed over New Caledonian independence demands.

In New Caledonia, the 1988 Matignon and 1998 Noumea Accords deferred a long-promised independence referendum, and scheduled transfers of some responsibilities, underpinned bybetter sharing of economic (mainly nickel) revenues. France hoped to buy time and economic prosperity, increasing local stakes in, and support for, its continued sovereignty. Read more

Well, time’s up. In May 2014, the last local elections were held under the Accords. The resultant Congress will decide whether to initiate an independence referendum process by 2018—if three-fifths of members can agree. If not, France must do so. Agreement isn’t a foregone conclusion. New Caledonia’s politics centre on staying with France or independence. Although the local government is collegial, the pro-France groups have held the notional majority since the 1970s when France deliberately imported French citizens to outnumber the generally pro-independence Kanaks. But neither group holds three-fifths of the seats. Indeed, the 2014 election saw the pro-France majority narrow (to 29 of the 54 seats) as the pro-independence group increased support (to 25). So some collaboration has to occur.

The path isn’t at all clear for early agreement on the timing and subject of a referendum process. The process raises sensitive identity and constitutional considerations.

Two papers have been developed to focus discussion on the post-Accord future. Two senior French lawyers wrote the October 2013 Institutional Future of New Caledonia which, unsurprisingly, favours staying with France, but sets out fairly dispassionately the legalities under each of four options (full sovereignty, partnership, extended autonomy and continued autonomy). In April 2014, the Customary Senate, a Noumea Accord institution of Kanak chiefs who advise on matters touching Kanak custom, published the Charter of the Kanak People, describing Kanak identity and victimisation under colonisation, and identifying minimal requirements for the future, mainly respect and equality. Interestingly, few pro-independence players (either the chiefs, or the key Kanak political leaders) use the ‘i’ word in broad public messages: they speak of ‘sovereignty’, ‘emancipation’, and ‘self-determination’ rather than ‘independence’, suggesting scope for compromise. The Charter refers to ‘shared sovereignty’ with ‘no effect on the territorial integrity of the State’.

But that doesn’t mean independence aspirations don’t remain. In June, a Kanak protest against environmental degradation from nickel development resulted in the shooting of two policemen. Pro-independence groups can’t agree on allocating the lucrative nickel portfolio in local government. One group came to blows over a boozy lunch in June, when a political adviser was murdered.

The pro-France side has its problems too. France’s most senior representative in Noumea, High Commissioner Jean-Jacques Brot, resigned on 19 July in the middle of a visit by the ‘Overseas France’ Minister, when the Minister announced a mission to prepare for post-Accord discussions. The resignation followed months of controversy, including suggestions that Brot was too close to a conservative pro-France group.

Australia has tended to stand apart from internal developments in the French Pacific collectivities, tacitly supporting the French state. After all, it’s useful having a now constructive, well-resourced partner in the region that’s a G20 Member, a Permanent Member of the Security Council and NATO, leader of the EU’s useful regional presence, and host to the Secretariat for the Pacific Community headquarters (in Noumea). France also participates in defence exercises and the FRANZ arrangement of fisheries surveillance and emergency assistance, and is beginning to share its maritime and environmental expertise. Moreover, France generously bankrolls its collectivities, to the tune of at least US$ 2 billion each for New Caledonia and French Polynesia each year. If France’s hold were to be shaken substantially, Australia would have to meet some of the shortfall.

Regionally, pro-independence groups draw on the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights for inspiration and support—the Kanak Charter specifically calls for regional country support for the Kanak people in asserting their right to sovereignty on this basis. The timing of outcomes for the future of New Caledonia will have implications for French Polynesia on past form, but also for Papua New Guinea, when the Bougainville Agreement, itself partly based on the Noumea Accord, reaches a turning point around 2016; for Solomon Islands now operating without RAMSI; for a fragile Fiji; and for neighbouring Vanuatu.

Those interconnections mean we should be more aware of what’s happening in our French neighbourhood, particularly in New Caledonia.

Denise Fisher, author of France in the South Pacific: power and politics (ANU Press 2013), is a former senior DFAT officer who has served as Australian’s Consul General in Noumea. She is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University Centre for European Studies. Image courtesy of Flickr user Jason Meaden.

Building the national criminal intelligence system

Road to success?In its report from earlier this year, the National Commission of Audit recommended that the CrimTrac Agency, which collects data about crime, be merged with the nation’s leading criminal intelligence agency, the Australian Crime Commission. It’s a proposal that’s drawn considerable interest, so I’ve written a special report (released today) to examine the options.

There are two distinct—but not irreconcilable—views about the proposal. For one, there’s a desire to better use criminal information across all jurisdictions. That view sees an opportunity to use CrimTrac’s data more effectively and for more purposes by linking it with the national criminal intelligence agency.

On the other hand, there’s an equally strong desire to maintain CrimTrac’s functionality and to focus its investment fund on the needs of all police stakeholders, and not just those engaged in countering serious and organised crime. Reconciling those views will require detailed research about how a merged organisation would benefit all stakeholders—especially the frontline police and criminal intelligence operators in all the jurisdictions. Read more

But does the merger proposal actually address the right question?

I argue that a better way to view the problem is to ask how the Commonwealth can play a role as a steward for the national criminal intelligence system. That perspective will show the Australian Government has two options—other than to do nothing.

The first option is to push straight to a merger of the ACC and CrimTrac. That’s a viable course, although it’ll need to be handled carefully to ensure all stakeholders support it. It’ll also require new investment and legislative changes.

The second is to approach the goal of an enhanced criminal intelligence system in a more indirect way. That would include a number of steps: consensus building fully to implement the recently agreed Australian Criminal Intelligence Model; agreement on ways to optimise existing information holdings; and investment to allow better use of criminal information for frontline police and intelligence users in all jurisdictions. Lastly, it would require agreement to make the most of the revenue-earning potential of criminal information. After all, this is an important resource in an economy that’s increasingly connected and looking for points of truth in online dealings. If that incremental approach is unsuccessful, the Commonwealth will have built an incontrovertible case for major structural changes in the national criminal intelligence system.

How this proposal is progressed depends largely on the attitude of the state and territory law-enforcement ministers and police commissioners. If they support the principle, a merger of the ACC and CrimTrac might proceed quickly if the new arrangements fix the information-sharing inconsistences and provide some start-up investment. The Commonwealth should also offer some guarantees about the future of the national criminal information-sharing enterprise to allay any concerns.

But if there’s a hint that the merger proposal would create unnecessary friction, the Commonwealth’s ministers and officials should spend their political capital on fixing impediments that make the current arrangements suboptimal. Putting CrimTrac on a legislative basis would be a good start if this course is chosen.

Importantly, the proposal presents an opportunity for the Australian Justice Minister to give the federal Cabinet a chance to consider the Commonwealth’s role in law enforcement more holistically. That would be especially timely, because the law enforcement sector is undergoing significant change and is facing real resource pressures.

David Connery is a senior analyst at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user Jes.

Russia: victor, vanquished, foe?

Russian Matryoshka DollsAustralians seem unconcerned about the new sanctions the government seems set to impose on Russia. After the MH17 tragedy, that’s understandable. But sanctions could sour relations with Russia for decades to come. Truth is, they’ve never really been good.

Having played the leading role in defeating Napoleon, tsarist Russia immediately replaced France in the fears of our nineteenth-century forebears: batteries erected in the 1850s to deter a feared Russian invasion still line the headlands of many Australian cities.

Precisely because the imaginative path to ‘Russia as enemy’ in Western culture is so well trodden, we should beware of following it blindly. Read more

In 1914, Russia began the ‘Great War’ as an ally. It ended it in revolution: technically a co-victor, in actuality vanquished by the Central Powers—and potentially a dangerous ideological foe. Unsure about Russia’s status, uncertain to whom to address an invitation, in 1919 the remaining Allies decided not to invite the country’s Bolshevik leaders to the Paris peace conference.

The result, as a British participant recorded, was confusion:

Everything inevitably leads up to Russia. Then there is a discursive discussion; it is agreed that the point at issue cannot be determined until the general policy towards Russia has been settled; having agreed on this, instead of settling it, they pass on to another subject.

When the Allies later intervened in the Russian Civil War (1918-22), an Australian contingent joined British operations against the Bolsheviks.

In 1945, Russia qua Soviet Union metamorphosed from fellow victor to existential foe. An aggressive, nuclear-armed USSR threatened liberal democracy. But, in George Kennan’s original conception of containment, understanding its ideological motivations and geopolitical objectives were considered as important as avoiding unnecessary confrontations.

Between 1989 and 1992, however, Russia’s status again became unclear. As Harvard’s Serhii Plokhy argues, Gorbachev’s reformed Soviet Union was, in the official White House narrative, co-victor with America in ‘defeating’ the madness of the Cold War. In reality, as glasnost and perestroika tore apart the structures that held it together, by 1991 the Soviet state was vanquished—broke, humiliated and in geopolitical free fall.

The White House toyed with a ‘Soviet Marshall Plan’, but ultimately rejected the idea as too expensive and politically unpopular in the 1992 election year.

The West threw a few bones to the democratic Russia that emerged from the wreckage—including G-8 membership and a NATO ‘Partnership for Peace’. But NATO’s eastward expansion in the 1990s and early 2000s made clear that it still saw Moscow as a potential foe.

To many Westerners, that’s the role that Russia has resumed with relish today. Ruled by a bare-chested, tiger-wrestling thug, increasingly illiberal and repressive, the Russia of Vladimir Putin seems bent on resurrecting a baptised form of the old Soviet empire. It’s a state as bizarre as it is sinister.

But even if Putin’s Russia is the neo-fascist gangster-state some describe, it’s fanciful to imagine that a vital interest in politics in Kiev was something that came over Moscow overnight: in four hundred years, no Russian government has found Ukraine peripheral to its interests, including Yeltsin’s and Gorbachev’s.

That ought to have been clear—in Brussels, Berlin, Washington and Canberra—before the EU offered Kiev its trade deal. To an extent that’s uncomfortable to admit, the West’s disregard for Russia’s centuries-old sensitivity about Ukraine sparked the crisis.

And if the West’s wrangle with Russia really stems from geopolitics, how likely is it that a legal remedy—sanctions—will solve what only a diplomatic démarche can?

The impasse could prove indefinitely damaging. Consider Cuba. For nearly sixty years, America’s embargo has sought to strangle the government of a de facto former colony it deems a threat, which came to power through a revolution it didn’t recognise and which a botched invasion later failed to dislodge.

Russia’s Ukraine calculus is as unlikely to change as America’s in Cuba: we should be thinking in decades rather than years about the consequences of sanctions.

In the meantime, how many issues demanding co-operation with Russia will be made impossible by the chill finger of sanctions? Syria and the related crisis in Iraq is an obvious example already.

Today it’s not true, if it was in 1919, that ‘everything inevitably leads up to Russia’. But certain important things do—not least among them the potential alliance arrangements of the twenty-first century.

Blind to Russia’s interests as a great power, will the West push Moscow into greater cooperation with, and reliance on, Beijing? Or will it avoid unnecessary provocations in the hope of preserving Russia as an independent pole in the international state system—and a handy counter-balance to an increasingly powerful China?

The sanctions Australia adopts in response to a crisis in Europe today could undermine the balance of power that underpins our security in Asia tomorrow. Russia doesn’t need to be our friend. But we risk giving it no other choice than to be China’s.

Matthew Dal Santo is a freelance writer and foreign affairs commentator based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Image courtesy of Flickr user Nicolas Janik.

Cyber wrap

HAL 9000This year’s DEF CON underground hacking conference in Las Vegas has left much to ponder about for cyber professionals the world over. The meet saw John McAfee lambaste Google on privacy, Tesla Motors offer a sacrificial Model S to the hacking hordes, and ‘smart’ thermostats mimicking HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Dan Geer’s policy proposals were a particular highlight, and have since been labelled the 10 Commandments of modern cybersecurity. A special thanks to the reporters who risked digital life and limb to bring us the highlights from Vegas.

The recent theft of 1.2 billion usernames and passwords by a Russian group shows that you do not need to be in a casino full of hackers to be vulnerable. With the identity of compromised sites still unknown, many have been scrambling to change their login details. While an important part of maintaining cyber hygiene, the effort might be for naught as it turns out your complex passwords aren’t that much safer. Read more

If that news hasn’t shaken your confidence in all things digital, a new non-for-profit venture will help you transfer your greenbacks into cold hard cryptocurrency. The project aims to offer an international currency exchange to easily swap and send digital and hard currency alike­­—a stellar idea if they can keep it secure. Ecuador is taking digital dollars a step further by proposing a government-backed virtual currency, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau isn’t quite as bullish on BitCoin.

A bit closer to home, Major General Steve Day, Deputy Director Cyber and Information Security at the Australian Signals Directorate shared his insights on cyberspace at the University of Canberra recently. In presenting cyber as a vector, Day emphasised that it is what you can achieve through the medium that matters. While the vector, as a man-made space, requires IT professionals for its improvement, expansion and maintenance, the ‘ends’ side of the equation requires informed policymakers and operators to ‘own its possibilities’. While he made clear that the cyber threat to Australia is ‘real, persistent, and present now’, Day expressed optimism that Australia remained at the leading edge of thinking and acting on cyber issues and that government efforts were making an impact. The Australian Cyber Security Centre is looking to move into its new home on the banks of Lake Burley Griffin in December.

Tackling the divisive topic of cyber war head on, MAJGEN Day did take a firm stance that there would be no cyber war. Instead he suggested that cyber would be a feature of future wars, extending the battlefield. This assertion has proven true in recent global turmoil, with FireEye researchers finding a distinct spike in malware traffic in the lead up to the crises in Ukraine and Gaza. ‘We can see the digital equivalent of troops on the border’, one threat analyst told the MIT Technology Review. It appears that the US Defense Intelligence Agency has taken that observation literally, commandeering social media to help identify who was responsible for shooting down MH17.

Klée Aiken is an analyst in ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre. Image courtesy of Flickr user Dioboss.

Close ties?

Niels Marquardt is quite correct to stress the warm and close relationship that exists between Australia and the US. We have no closer relationship. It stretches across all aspects of our engagement with the world. If, in some countries, our diplomatic interests are represented by the UK, that has as much to do with accidents of history than political realities of the present.

Nevertheless, the picture Marquardt draws of Australia, while pretty and true, can’t go unchallenged. Just as a portrait may not match the entire reality of the sitter, so his wishful snapshot doesn’t accurately display where we may be in a decade, nor even where we are now.

Take communications. Qantas may fly to only two destinations in China and flies to four in the US, but its offshoot Jetstar, adds another three further cities in the Middle Kingdom. The looming question over the American routes is, of course, how soon cuts and closures will come. There’s certainly no question of adding capacity. And it’s much the same with the other fields traversed by the CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce. The bonds with the US are tight and economic links strong and established. But the new linkages are in Asia. Read more

In the nine years ending in 2012, 11% of our migrants (225, 657) came from China (PDF). Fewer than 30,000 came from the US. Those facts can’t be papered over by platitudes about us ‘growing closer’.

Marquardt admits as much with the statistics he chooses to present reinforcing his case. He segues casually from the bilateral Australia–US trade treaty to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (which is, so far, just talk) before he provides numbers. Our number one trading partner is China—the US is number three. Over the past five years trade with China has surged from $85,162 million to (currently) $150,919 m. Over the same period trade with the US has grown marginally – from $49,393 m to $54,714 m. Numbers don’t lie.

Yes, Julie Bishop did state, earlier this year, that the US is ‘Australia’s most important economic partner’. Nevertheless, the veracity of the statement all depends on how you measure the relationship. It’s always possible to redefine your terms to get the result you want—but at the cost of rendering what you’re saying meaningless. The real measure of an easy and close relationship is one that doesn’t need to brag.

Nic Stuart is a columnist with the Canberra Times.

The future of the US–Australia strategic relationship

AUSMIN 2014With the annual Australia–US Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) recently concluded in Sydney, it’s a good time to reassess the broader Australian–US strategic relationship. I want to frame that assessment here by employing a SWOT analysis. The methodology is clunky but simple enough to allow a set of insights about the relationship’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. I’ve allowed myself three of each, as follows.

Three strengths: familial closeness, shared grand strategies, a solid foundation. First, closeness. The Anglosphere’s our international family, and while it’s easy to mock the importance of belonging to an international family, states that don’t belong to one (like Japan) would beg to differ. Ties of blood and culture run deep. Second, grand strategy: the best long-term allies are those who essentially want the same thing. In grand strategy, Washington and Canberra both want a stable, liberal, prosperous global order. And that’s a good basis for long-term cooperation—because the tie isn’t just of blood but of interest. Third, the foundation: we both enjoy an alliance that’s over 60 years old and is as close today as it’s ever been. Both allies are still looking for new ways to cooperate in order to make the alliance more relevant to the 21st century. Read more

Three weaknesses: time, place, strategic personalities. After the Global War on Terror the US is a weary Titan. That effect might last another five to ten years, but—over the longer haul—US vigour will wax as well as wane. There’s a second, longer-term ‘time’ factor, and that relates to the broader pattern of regional transformation: while the US rebalance to Asia is good, Washington’s rebalancing at a time when Western influence in the region is slipping because of the rise of regional great powers. Second is geography. At the best of times, Australia’s not Washington’s top priority—geographically we sit too far back from a strategic order essentially built along the Eurasian rimlands. True, the shift of strategic weight in Asia is changing that, to some degree—but we’re never going to be as relevant as front-line US partners. Finally, personalities: the US and Australia are two different strategic personality types: Americans are Extroverted, Intuitive and Feeling; Australians are Extroverted, Sensing and Thinking. In short, we‘re British empiricists, they’re the City on the Hill. There’s a messianic core to US strategic policy that isn’t replicated in ours.

Three opportunities: a more receptive Asia, a US more interested in Southeast Asia, a treaty with an in-built capacity to engage. Evidence of the more receptive Asia abounds. Regional countries want to do more with both the US and Australia. Japan’s the obvious example, but others aren’t as far behind as some think. It wasn’t always thus: remember, we couldn’t do much more with Japan before Abe, nor much more with Indonesia before SBY. A second opportunity, a shifting US perception of Southeast Asia. Washington has traditionally seen that subregion as a set of sealanes, and after 9/11 as a possible second front in the War on Terror, but it’s finally coming to see it as a set of influential players at the intersection of two key oceans. Third, both the US and Australia are classic networkers. And the ANZUS treaty already gives them scope (in the unused Article 8) to do more networking together in the regional context. I’m amazed we aren’t doing it.

Three threats: complacency, category mistake, distraction. Let’s start with complacency, because that’s the most insidious threat to the relationship. There’s something of a danger on both sides of the Pacific that capitals will treat the relationship as ‘business-as-usual’. Oddly, the simple regularity of AUSMIN actually increases that danger, reducing high-level political commitment to the alliance to an annual ministerial meeting. We need to work to sustain a broader base of political engagement. Second, the threat of the category mistake: that we come to see ANZUS as a barrier to our closer engagement with Asia, rather than an enabler of such engagement. It’s a simple mistake to slip into, and it typically follows from seeing ANZUS as a strategic hangover from a different era. And finally, there’s the threat of distraction. Distraction can come to both capitals from a range of sources. Washington can easily be distracted by more urgent priorities, both domestic and international; but so too can Canberra. Despite the excitable tones in which the future of our strategic partnership with the US is sometimes debated, the real threat isn’t that our relationship will be ruined by disastrous war, nor even that it’ll be traded away to accommodate China: it’s that the relationship will be eaten out from the inside, leaving a hollow, reactive partnership in the place of a substantive, proactive one.

Rod Lyon is a fellow at ASPI and executive editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Can the status quo last in Asia?

Can the current regional order in Asia last?Well, this has been an interesting exchange and I thank Peter Jennings for launching it, the team on The Strategist for hosting it, and distinguished colleagues for taking the time to contribute. The exchange has helped to clarify the most important underlying points of difference between us about Australia’s interests in the Asian order. And I’m grateful for the chance to offer some brief concluding thoughts.

In fact Nick Bisley put his finger on it: the key difference between my view and many others’ lies in our different ideas about the future of the regional order. I think the strategic status quo in Asia will not last, while others believe it will.

Let me recap why I think the order is going to change—indeed, is already changing. It’s simple. Asia has been stable since 1972 because China has accepted US primacy as the foundation of the Asian order. China did so because it believed it was too weak to contest it effectively. Now China believes it’s strong enough to contest US primacy, and it’s doing so. Read more

Asia’s post-Vietnam order, based on uncontested US primacy, has therefore passed into history. The question now is what kind of new order will take its place. There are several possibilities. None of them would be as good for Australia as the order we have known since 1972, but some would be much better for us than others. We should be trying to nudge the region towards a new order that would work well for us, and away from ones that would be bad for us.

Most of the posts in our debate differ from my position by arguing, or implying, that we should aim to preserve the status quo instead. That case is made in several different ways.

Rod Lyon rightly draws attention to the risks of moving to a new order that concedes a bigger role to China. But those risks must be balanced against the risks of trying and failing to preserve the status quo. If we refuse to accommodate China to some extent, the most likely result is escalating strategic rivalry.

So the choice we face isn’t the one Rod weighs, between accommodating China and preserving the status quo. It’s between accommodating China and confronting it as a rival. I think Rod, like others, tends to underestimate that risk because he assumes that when faced with our resolve to preserve the status quo China will simply back off.

That isn’t a confidence I share. Bob O’Neill gives an important insight into why China is so serious about changing the status quo when he traces the Senkaku dispute back to the Treaty of Shimonoseki, thereby connecting it to the century of humiliation which the Chinese feel so deeply. Bob has reminded us that we won’t understand what’s happening in Asia if we don’t see how things appear from what Liddell Hart called (quoting the Duke of Wellington) ‘the other side of the hill’.

True, that only matters if China is strong enough to fulfil its ambitions. Andrew Phillips doesn’t thinks so, and neither does Bill Tow. Andrew thinks the current order is too strong for China. Bill suggests that China isn’t really focused on competing with America for influence in East Asia because its attention is drawn more to Central Asia and it can’t afford to do both.

I’m not sure that’s so. There are limits to China’s power, of course, but I think it’s possible that China can significantly undermine US leadership in Asia quite cheaply by undermining the credibility of US regional alliances, and I have argued elsewhere that’s exactly what they’re trying to do.

Andrew O’Neil thinks we can’t be sure what will happen, and it’s easy to agree with him about that. It’s much harder to agree with the implication that we can and should do nothing until we are sure. If we want to have any chance of acting before it’s too late, we have no choice but to act before the outcome is certain, so we have to be willing to back our judgment.

And there are some things we do already know on which we can base those judgments—like China’s economy is already almost as big as America’s, and China’s already showing that it wants a new model of great-power relations. What new evidence is Andrew waiting for that China has the weight and the will to challenge the status quo?

Finally, Peter Jennings (in his second post) is sure that I’m urging Australia to choose between America and China, despite my claims to the contrary. I think I can see where he’s coming from. On the one hand, Peter assumes there could be no new order in Asia in which Australia didn’t have to choose between America and China. On the other, he assumes that we won’t have to choose between them as long as we hold fast to the current order. So according to Peter, arguing for a change in the order, as I do, is arguing to make a choice. And arguing to preserve the old order, as he does, is arguing against a choice.

But I think both his assumptions are wrong. On the one hand, it’s possible for a new order to emerge in Asia in which escalating rivalry between the two great powers is avoided, and in which Australia can therefore maintain close relations with both. That’s why a new order in which they share power would be best for Australia.

On the other hand, it seems to me likely indeed that resisting any accommodation of China in a new order will lead to escalating rivalry, and it seems equally clear that the more rivalry escalates the starker the choices we face between Washington and Beijing. And the closer they come to war, the closer we come to the starkest possible binary choice.

That’s why I think we’re more likely to be compelled to choose between America and China if we try to preserve the status quo than if we encourage a new order based on accommodation. And so, precisely to avoid that choice, we should argue for change. Like a true conservative, I argue for the minimum changes needed to preserve what’s most important.

Hugh White is professor of strategic studies at ANU and author of The China ChoiceImage courtesy of Flickr user Rosa Pomar.

Israel, Hamas and the right to self-defence

Banksy’s ‘Girl and a Soldier’, stencilled onto the wall of the West Bank in Bethlehem.

The war between the State of Israel and the foot-soldiers of Hamas is further proof of the horrors of war. But it’s also a near-perfect example of asymmetric warfare in which the weaker side in the conflict wages war by doing all it can to undermine the moral authority of its stronger adversary. If that adversary is a liberal democracy, as is Israel, then it faces ultimate defeat: lose moral authority, lose the war.

Typically, the preferred tactic of the weaker party is to prod, provoke and outrage the stronger to the point where something ‘snaps’—and the provocation is answered with a response that is indiscriminate, disproportional or both. The moment that happens, the brute force of superior arms begins to lose its effect—as allies withdraw support and even the people, in whose name the military act, begin to doubt the legitimacy of their cause.

The underlying ethical issues are a tangled thicket. One branch stems from Hamas’ refusal to recognise the right of the State of Israel to exist—another from that section of Israeli opinion that sees itself as having a divine right to occupy lands that the international community recognises as belonging to the Palestinians. Historic wrongs and miscalculations, on all sides, have led us to where we are today. Read more

The military issues are no less complex. On the one hand, Hamas is murderous in its indifference to the possibility of innocent civilians being killed by its rockets. But, a combination of military ‘incompetence’ and superior Israeli defences has meant that, in recent times, few Israeli civilians have been killed by rockets fired from Gaza. On the other hand, Israel has declared itself to be strongly committed to the proportionate and discriminate use of force, with a stated intention of minimising civilian casualties amongst the Palestinians. Yet, for all of Israel’s military sophistication, over 1,400 Palestinian civilians have been killed—many of them women and children. The numbers matter—both in terms of ethics and strategy.

Israel has invited the world to understand its predicament, arguing that no nation would sit idly by while indiscriminate rocket fire rains down on its citizens. The fact that complicates this rational and otherwise fair appeal is the singular lack of ‘success’ on the part of Hamas. Hamas’ indiscriminate use of force is deplorable, but relatively ineffective. So, while we might condemn Hamas’ intentions in the strongest terms, we can’t ignore the fact of its impotence.

Israel has a right to self-defence. But those of us who insist on recognising Israel’s rights must also insist that Israel reciprocate by respecting the rights of others. For example, Israel has breached the rights of others—and fails in its obligations to the international community—by building settlements in occupied territory wrested from the Palestinians during earlier wars (not of Israel’s making). To note this isn’t to excuse Hamas for its reckless attempt to use military force against Israeli civilians. But it’s a mockery of justice to condemn the wrongs of one side and ignore those of the other. Israel isn’t (and can’t be) beyond criticism.

Israel’s obligations also apply in relation to the means employed in exercising its right to self-defence. For example, according to the principles of ‘just war’, a state must use only the minimum amount of force necessary in order to ensure its security. That is, states aren’t permitted to eliminate each and every source of threat; rather, they may take measures to ensure that the risks associated with each threat are neutralised. Israel’s deployment of its ‘Iron Dome’ missile defence system is a perfect example of a proportionate and discriminate response to a threat.

Unfortunately, Israel has taken Hamas’ bait. Rather than managing the threats, it has eliminated the sources of rocket fire and incursions into what it claims to be its territory, knowing that Hamas’ military wing operates in areas densely populated by civilians—often under the cover of civilian infrastructure. The extraordinary level of casualties amongst Palestinian civilians is a product of Hamas’ operating environment and Israeli tactics designed to offer maximum protection to Israel’s people by projecting force from a safe distance (via missiles, artillery and tank shells).

The facts on the ground prove that whatever Israel’s stated intentions, its use of force is indiscriminate. There’s an alternative: send in, on foot, well-trained, well-armed personnel. If Israel used only professional soldiers (and not its civilian reserves) the greater risk of death, wounding or capture may be worth taking in order to avoid the loss of moral authority that comes from the indiscriminate killing of innocent people (especially women and children).

Just War Theory imposes one further obligation on self-defence: the actions must ensure that the quality of the peace secured is superior to that which would have prevailed if no war had been fought. Neither side in the current conflict can make any legitimate claim to meet that standard. If anything, the current hostilities have degraded the prospect of peace, not least because they’ve driven both sides into more entrenched positions of enmity and extremism. But—irrespective of its apparent success in the field—Israel is the one losing this war because it’s the one sacrificing the moral authority it claims for itself amongst the liberal democracies.

The vast asymmetries of power and resources between the Palestinians and Israelis made it almost inevitable that Hamas would set the trap that Israel has found it impossible to avoid. Further destruction of Gaza is against the interests of all who yearn for peace in that troubled part of the world.

This is the background to what we see unfolding in the tragic events befalling the people of Israel and the Gaza Strip. The moment the ethical line is crossed, people embark on the process of calculating and declaring the relative burden of moral infamy carried by each side. But by then it’s too late for both sides—each has been irreparably damaged both militarily and morally.

Simon Longstaff is executive director of St James Ethics Centre. One of his roles is to provide support to the Australian Defence Force in its preparation of personnel prior to deployment overseas. Image courtesy of Flickr user Trocaire.

America and Australia: economic ties as strong and important as security ties

The US and the UK are the largest foreign investors in Australia.

This week in Sydney, the annual AUSMIN meeting of US and Australian Defence and Foreign Ministers will shine an appropriately bright light on the past century of close and constructive security collaboration between our two nations’ military forces. From US soldiers under the command of Australian General John Monash in WWI to ongoing rotational training deployments of US Marines in Darwin, we’ll be reminded of important shared sacrifices in the defence of democracy and freedom.

What may be lost in this annual event is recognition of the even closer—and arguably more important—economic relationship that has joined and benefitted America and Australia for at least twice as long. And that relationship shows no sign of losing its relevance or primacy. Read more

Since the American trading ship Hope first delivered 7,500 gallons of rum to Sydney in 1793, that economic relationship has grown steadily. Indeed, America has become, according to Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop earlier this year, ‘Australia’s most important economic partner’. She bases her analysis on the trillion-dollar-plus, two-way investment relationship, as well as America’s role as a top-three trading partner and a major collaborator on R&D and innovation. No other nation looms as large as America when the total economic relationship with Australia is considered.

Still, many remain unaware of America’s unrivalled economic importance to Australia. America is seen as yesterday’s man, a casualty of excitement around ‘the Asian Century’ in which future opportunity and prosperity supposedly will flow from important trading partners north of Australia. Indeed, in the 2013 Annual Lowy Institute Poll, 76% of Australians described China as having ‘the most important economy to Australia’, while only 16% ascribed this role to the US. But why is that?

There’s no doubt the Asian Century is an important development, for America as well as Australia. Asian markets—already of huge value—will only become more important, especially for exporters of coal, liquefied natural gas, iron ore, beef, and other key commodities. And our top trading partner often seems to be misunderstood as our top economic partner. Public opinion typically undervalues the critical role investment plays in creating prosperity and raising living standards. The US and the UK are the largest foreign investors in Australia, followed distantly by Japan; China is in eight position with total investment in Australia worth less than 4%of the American total. Relative positions may change over time but the current trend—with massive, continuing American investment in huge resource projects like Gorgon in WA and APLNG in Queensland—is for American primacy to strengthen, not diminish. Such projects demonstrate clearly that the Asian Century presents enormous opportunities for multiple countries to benefit simultaneously, as American capital and technology unlock Australian resources for export to Asian markets.

The most basic impact of foreign investment on this enormous scale is massive job creation that benefits tens of thousands of citizens in both countries. Ask yourself: how many Aussies do you know who work in American firms here? Firms like IBM, Boeing, GE, Chevron, and HP each employ thousands of Australians, and there are dozens more like them. Eastward across the Pacific, Australians actually out-invest Americans in per capita terms, having invested over $400 billion in America. Westfield is perhaps the most visible example, creating thousands of jobs in American commercial real estate. BHP Billiton is the single largest foreign investor in America’s ongoing energy revolution. In just two decades, Macquarie has grown rapidly to employ over 2,000 Americans and play a leading role in the US natural gas market.

Included in those jobs are key leadership positions in each country. Chris Delaney at Goodman-Fielder, Tom Gorman at Brambles, and Mike Kane at Boral are examples of Americans running Australian companies here. Talented Australians have also run major global corporations in the US, such as Andrew Liveris at Dow Chemical, David Mackay at Kellogg, and James Gorman at Morgan Stanley. The talent bridge across the Pacific is a well-travelled, two-way street that benefits both nations.

Those anecdotes and statistics help illustrate the vitality of an unparalleled economic partnership. Underpinning it are economic arrangements like the 2005 Australia–US Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA). Since then bilateral trade has expanded significantly. Now both countries are taking the lead on a 12-nation, multilateral trade negotiation called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP has the potential to open non-traditional markets for freer competition and to set rules-of-the-road for 21st century commerce. While initially covering over 40% of global GDP, it’ll provide the template for future free trade across the Asia-Pacific, and so is of importance beyond the first tranche of participants.

Perhaps the greatest challenge going forward is the risk of complacency. Little in our important economic relationship ‘just happened’. Business, labour, and government across the Pacific all worked deliberately and constructively—and often through great difficulties—to achieve the outcomes we enjoy today. For the relationship to remain vibrant into the future, key stakeholders in both countries need to remain engaged with and through their governments, and to help sensitise their publics to the high stakes involved. Perhaps it would help if both nations instituted some sort of regular economic consultations, to parallel AUSMIN, to remind us all how critical those issues are to our collective well-being.

Niels Marquardt is the chief executive officer of the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia. Image courtesy of Flickr user 401(K) 2012.

A new wave for Foreign Affairs?

A new wave in Foreign Affairs?

In the Indo-Pacific, there are enormous challenges in oceans management. Last November, the Indian Ocean Rim Association, chaired by Australia, recognised that fact by issuing a formal declaration on the principles for peaceful, productive and sustainable use of the Indian Ocean and its resources. The Pacific Islands Forum that recently concluded also issued the the Palau Declaration, The Ocean: Life & Future ‘Charting a Course to Sustainability.

Australia’s a three-ocean country: the Pacific, the Southern Ocean, and the Indian Ocean. We have the largest area of maritime jurisdiction in the Indo-Pacific region. Our security largely depends on maintaining good relations with our archipelagic and island neighbours. Maritime and oceanic issues should be a key element in these relations. Read more

Some of our archipelagic neighbours have large EEZs, including several Pacific island countries with EEZs of over 1 million square kilometres. The economic potential of their maritime zones is mostly unrealised. However, a notable exception is the importance of coastal and oceanic fisheries (see also here), especially for tuna. East African and Indian Ocean island countries also have significant marine resources that aren’t providing full economic benefits to them at present. (chapter 7)

With Australia’s recognised good-standing in managing the marine environment and resources, oceans affairs should be a central plank in our broader political relations, particularly where our neighbours have populations with a high dependence on extensive maritime domains.

We need a greater focus in Australian foreign policy and aid on oceans management and development. That would reflect many of our economic, scientific, environmental, and strategic interests in the surrounding oceans and seas. In coordinating Australia’s maritime aid, there’s a need for a formal process through which those programs and our national interests can be addressed in a strategic manner. With the integration of AusAID into DFAT, the transformed Department can better align foreign, development, and trade policies and programs.

A more coordinated approach to oceans affairs is needed in our foreign and aid policies. The Department of the Environment has some responsibility for regional and international marine initiatives, as well as broader external sustainable development advice. It’s heavily involved in Antarctic and Southern Ocean issues. The Department of Agriculture has responsibility for regional fisheries engagement work. Foreign Affairs leads on international law of the sea issues.

Australia should have a capacity to align regional ocean management with our foreign policy objectives. Coming to grips with the new mandate to align aid with foreign policy objectives means Australia should now create a mechanism in DFAT like the US Government’s Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs, located in the US State Department.

Creating an Office of Ocean Affairs would be instrumental in coordinating DFAT’s oceans expertise, as well as providing a focus for interdepartmental coordination. It’d be a positive step towards advancing our regional foreign and security policy objectives, as well as Australia’s aid program. Our assistance to regional countries in managing their marine zones and exploiting their marine resources contributes to their food security and economic development.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr Sunova Surfboards.