No to backburner, yes to a two-track strategy

Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, addresses the general debate of the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly. President Rouhani  indicated in his speech that Iran would co-operate on 'very important regional issues, such as combating violence and extremism', while demanding concessions in the P5+1 nuclear talks.Iran’s securing nuclear weapons would destabilise a region already suffering from mass upheaval, in addition to having dire security implications for the rest of the world. Multilateral efforts to deter the sadistic actions of ISIS, a crucial priority, seem to have distracted from international efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program. As identified in the recent post by Andrew Nikolic, a nuclear Iran remains a broader strategic priority and potentially worse threat.

Those multilateral efforts have been further complicated by Iran’s promise to fight ISIS, with President Rouhani indicating to the UN General Assembly last month that Iran would co-operate on ‘very important regional issues, such as combating violence and extremism’, while demanding concessions in the P5+1 nuclear talks. With reports over the past months of Iran sending Guards in to wage a conflict already being fought by the US, ‘both sides will have an interest in not allowing a confrontation or increased tension over the nuclear issue to interfere with the campaign against ISIS’, as noted by Gary Samore, former White House Co-ordinator for Arms Control. Read more

Ostensible co-operation between the US and Iran on a common threat changes the dynamics of the talks. Complicating the situation even further are different messages coming from each power, with Susan Rice insisting the US held some ‘informal consultations’ with Iran about regional issues, while Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has claimed that the US approached Iran to seek assistance in combating ISIS.

There are limited prospects for the P5+1 achieving a sustainable outcome from their negotiations with Tehran while world powers are simultaneously distracted by the need to combat an urgent and highly-visible threat. The supposed alignment of objectives between the US and Iran has seemingly eroded both the sense of urgency about an effective agreement and ability to achieve one. As noted by Clifford D. May in the Washington Times:

The Islamic State’s flamboyant barbarism has been consuming the oxygen, making it easy to forget that Iran has long been, according to the US State Department, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.

The ISIS threat, while theoretically facilitating short-term co-operation between the US and Iran, in the longer-term may well strengthen Iran’s resolve to further its long-standing nuclear ambitions. As former US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey pointed out (paywalled):

It (ISIS) can destabilise neighbouring states, including Jordan and even Saudi Arabia, drawing on networks of sympathisers in these countries. This could lead to an even greater threat to regional stability… and encourage Iran and other states to seek (and possibly use) nuclear weapons.

Further, AIJAC Executive Director Colin Rubenstein writing in The Australian recently commented:

A significant concern is that the critical efforts to stop an Iranian bomb will be sidelined—or, worse still, Iran and its proxies will be empowered as a result… There is reportedly little progress on the two key issues essential for any nuclear deal… greatly reducing the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges… and stopping construction of the Arak heavy-water nuclear reactor, which will produce easily-weaponised plutonium.

The focus on ISIS is important not only for the fate of nuclear proliferation in Iran but, as Nikolic identified, relevant to other states, including North Korea. The Six-Party Talks are still in a hiatus, despite China and Russia suggesting they could soon resume.

With the talks in Vienna facing a November deadline, it remains a strategic imperative that the international focus on ISIS not distract from ensuring Iran can neither secure nuclear weapons, nor produce them on demand. The only solution is for the West to pursue a two-track strategy: combating ISIS in a way that doesn’t undermine the effectiveness of the P5+1 talks, whilst ensuring that the negotiations don’t allow Iran’s actions against ISIS to distract from the necessity of a viable outcome.

Glen Falkenstein is a policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. Image courtesy of the United Nations.

FPDA—not fade away

Echidna on the RunThree years ago the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) celebrated its 40th birthday, an anniversary that sparked a flutter of international curiosity about this most eclectic of regional security frameworks. By way of animal analogy, the FPDA is an echidna among defence accords: shy, long-lived, unassuming—somewhat odd-looking. Since 2011, it has arguably reverted to type, humbly re-occupying its niche as a sub-treaty legacy agreement, on a separate track to the region’s fast-evolving security architecture. As noted by Tim Huxley in 2012, the FPDA’s ‘anachronistic’ image has tended to obscure its advantages as a unique, evolving tool in Australia’s defence diplomacy. Subsequent developments have borne out that potential, although the FPDA—in its unspectacular way—struggles to compete for attention within a menagerie of competing, ‘alpha’ strategic priorities.

Dubbed the ‘quiet achiever’ by Carl Thayer, the FPDA’s low profile belies a brisk tempo of multinational air, naval, land and command-post exercises held regularly under its auspices among Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Boilerplate-text aside, Australia’s 2013 White Paper was surprisingly effusive on the Five Power arrangements, noting that membership ‘provides Australia with a strategically important presence in Southeast Asia that augments bilateral and other multilateral engagement’. Despite this there’s little public awareness of what the FPDA is for, or the prominent role that Australia plays within it: for instance the fact that a two-star Australian Air Vice-Marshal commands the peninsula-wide Integrated Area Defence System (IADS) from the Malaysian air base at Butterworth—more than a quarter century after the last RAAF squadron was withdrawn from there. Read more

Indonesia’s still the most important external factor bearing upon the FPDA. Although not officially acknowledged, the FPDA was created in the shadow of Confrontation as the successor to the Anglo-Malayan Defence Agreement, to provide a non-binding level of deterrence to Malaysia and Singapore against the return of Indonesian demagoguery (the arrangement obliges parties simply to consult in case of external attack on the Peninsula). As Canberra has embraced Indonesia’s post-Soeharto democratisation, and pursued a bilateral compact with Jakarta as its strategic priority in Southeast Asia, so the FPDA has lost some of its lustre for Australia. Singapore and Malaysia view their larger neighbour with continuing caution and are less sanguine about the prospects for defence engagement. That explains the continuing strong support for the FPDA in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, even as their own improving relationship has rendered the arrangements less important as a conduit for managing cross-Causeway tensions.

Improving strategic relations with Indonesia is likely to remain Australia’s most important security objective in Southeast Asia, for obvious reasons. However, Jakarta’s abrupt, prolonged freeze on security cooperation, in retaliation for the Snowden revelations, has brought home the vicissitudes in the bilateral relationship—and the dangers of overloading the Indonesian basket when it comes to Australia’s defence engagement in Southeast Asia. By contrast, the FPDA has continued to accumulate quiet achievements. If Canberra doesn’t share quite the same perceptions of Indonesia as its Southeast Asian partners, its difficulties with Jakarta over the past year nonetheless underscore the value of FPDA dependability—and the risks of over-reliance upon a single partner within the region.

Unlike the echidna, the FPDA has at least adjusted its gait to move with the times, re-badging IADS from integrated air defence to area defence as far back as 2001. Exercise and interoperability themes have since been broadened from conventional defence to HADR and maritime security. FPDA was not publicly invoked during the search for MH 370, but the disaster has focused an operational spotlight on the need for integrated air surveillance and SAR coordination across Southeast Asia and beyond. The apparent failure to track the airliner as it passed north of Butterworth was not IADS’ finest hour. But the continuing multinational search operation has unquestionably benefited from the institutionalised trust built up between Malaysia and its fellow FPDA members. With Singapore recently unveiling a new Regional Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Coordination Centre, HADR collaboration within FPDA is probably set to expand further.

With an eye to more strategic concerns, while the geographical purview of FPDA is limited to the Malay Peninsula and its maritime approaches, naval and air exercises are held in the southerly reaches of the South China Sea. Extending those to East Malaysia on an ad hoc basis would send an important, non-provocative signal of the Five Powers’ commitment to freedom of navigation and overflight.

Although the perception that the UK no longer pulls its military weight within FPDA is a common source of complaint, the de facto senior external partner status that confers on Australia is a net plus. The FPDA is unique as a multilateral defence framework in the western Pacific, and one of the few fora where Australia’s present and America absent. Diplomatically, that’s surely advantageous for a country that struggles to shake off the ‘deputy-sheriff’ moniker in Southeast Asia. From a military point of view, the major limitation on the FPDA going forward may in fact be Malaysia’s laggard level of defence capability. As a consequence, Singapore and Australia may be led to exercise bilaterally on a more regular basis. The FPDA’s flexible enough to accommodate that, though it’ll require careful diplomatic management.

With the White Paper pending, Australia could start by giving fresh consideration to the FPDA, not as a legacy throwback to forward defence or a deviation from partnership with Indonesia, but as a flexible, proven platform to serve its security interests in Southeast Asia.

Euan Graham is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. Image courtesy of Flickr user Jason Wong

Is Australia’s influence over Papua New Guinea declining?

Peter O'Neill Papua New GuineaAustralian Defence white papers have long identified the strategic import of ‘a secure South Pacific and Timor-Leste’. As renowned strategic thinker T.B. Millar once reflected, Papua New Guinea is an ‘an exposed and vulnerable front door’, as if it was in ‘hostile hands’ it would ‘make attacks on our east coast much easier—Port Moresby, after all, is closer to Sydney than Darwin is’.

Australia is Papua New Guinea’s largest aid and military donor (primarily via the Defence Cooperation Program and the Pacific Patrol Boat program), and trade  and investment  partner. Australia also effectively gave PNG a security guarantee under the 1987 Joint Declaration of Principles, as reaffirmed in the 2000 Defence White Paper (PDF). Consequently, Australia has been able to exercise considerable influence over Papua New Guinea for much of the period since its independence.

This situation is changing. Papua New Guinea now has new opportunities which are eroding Australia’s influence. Read more

First, changes to the broader Asia-Pacific power structure have generated geopolitical opportunities. The ‘rise’ of China has motivated the United States to ‘pivot’ or ‘rebalance’ to the Asia-Pacific. While there is only a minimal risk that China and the United States will engage in zero-sum competition for military influence, both powers have engaged more extensively with Papua New Guinea in the diplomatic, aid and economic realms. Japan, Malaysia, Korea, Indonesia, Iran, Cuba, Russia and the United Arab Emirates are also becoming involved as aid donors and diplomatic partners. As Papua New Guinea has more choice of external partners, it no longer necessarily needs to identify itself as falling within an uncontested Australia and New Zealand sphere of influence.

Second, that increased choice has opened up regional opportunities. Since 1971, the dominant regional political institution has been the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), comprising all independent regional states, along with Australia and New Zealand. Empowered by their greater choice of partners and encouraged by an emboldened Fiji, Papua New Guinea and other regional states are creating, or strengthening, alternative regional and sub-regional institutions and organisations such as the Melanesian Spearhead Group and Pacific Islands Development Forum that exclude Australia, New Zealand and other traditional partners.

Papua New Guinea is also a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and is seeking full membership of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which it currently has observer status. Papua New Guinea, along with Fiji and Vanuatu, has also joined the Non-Aligned Movement. Fiji has encouraged South Pacific states to form an alternative caucus grouping at the United Nations, the ‘Pacific Small Island Developing States’ (PSIDS) group, which has effectively replaced the PIF in this role.

Papua New Guinea’s growing confidence has been enhanced by its economic opportunities. Its Southern Highlands are home to the massive Exxon-Mobil LNG project, which it is predicted will generate total revenue for the government of about US$31bn to 2040.  It also receives revenue from several other natural resource projects, including the $1.5bn Ramu nickel mine, in which Chinese companies have invested, and has the potential for deep-sea mining.

As a result of its opportunities, Papua New Guinea is less likely to be susceptible to Australian influence in the future.

The most notable recent example of Australia’s declining influence are the circumstances surrounding the arrangements to process and resettle asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea. These arrangements have their antecedents in the 2001 ‘Pacific Solution’, which introduced processing of asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru (it ended in 2008). In exchange, Australia made no additional development assistance payments to Papua New Guinea.

In contrast, under the 2013 arrangements, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill demanded—and received—a total re-alignment of Australia’s aid program to support his government’s priorities. Australia has agreed to provide an extra $420m of development assistance, on top of the projected $507.2m in assistance budgeted for Papua New Guinea in 2013–14.

Moreover, when the arrangement was agreed, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd indicated his understanding that most refugees would be resettled in Papua New Guinea. This belief was shared by Tony Abbott. In March 2014, O’Neill contradicted both Rudd and Abbott by announcing that Papua New Guinea will only resettle ‘some’ people whose claims are recognised. While O’Neill recanted that statement in April 2014, the fact that he felt empowered to openly contradict two Australian prime ministers suggests a growing degree of confidence in Papua New Guinea’s attitude to Australia.

Australia may find itself with less influence over its relationship with Papua New Guinea in the future, which will have important strategic implications. Unfortunately, it’s not yet clear that the Australian government has come to this realisation.

Joanne Wallis is a lecturer in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, where she also convenes the Asia-Pacific Security program. The journal article on which this post is based was recently published in Security Challenges and is available here. Image courtesy of Flickr user Global Panorama.

Australia–Indonesia relations under Jokowi

GarudaThe first thing that Joko Widodo will think about when he wakes up today, the day of his inauguration as president, won’t be Indonesia’s relationship with Australia. Nor, for that matter, with the other countries represented at his inauguration. By contrast, as Prime Minister Tony Abbott prepares for his day in Jakarta, he’ll be especially conscious of the importance of a good first contact with the new president.

Abbott’s gesture of attending the inauguration, as his predecessors John Howard and Kevin Rudd did in 2004 and 2009, will make its own statement, while any exchange they might have during the day’s crowded agenda will necessarily be focused on delivering some key impressions, and if possible some key messages. It’s good that, thanks to effective work by Australian ministers and officials, and a certain degree of indulgence by outgoing President Yudhoyono, the two leaders don’t have immediate contentious issues to bring to their first encounter (as Rudd brought the Oceanic Viking asylum-seekers issue to his Inauguration Day encounter with Yudhoyono). Read more

Too often, there has been a tendency on both sides to view the relationship through the lens of challenges in the relationship, and that can overshadow some enduring positive trends and attitudes. Those are worth reiterating, but a preliminary cautionary note is called for.

In recent months, comments on prospects for Jokowi’s handling of foreign relations have, rightly, pointed to his lack of experience in the international environment. More recently, in a range of contacts between Jokowi and foreign visitors and diplomats, he hasn’t shown any great level of interest in international issues, except to the extent that those might affect things with which he’s familiar, such as Indonesia’s investment and business environment. Given that he’ll have an understandable preoccupation with getting his domestic political arrangements in order, the prospect seems to be for a new president who’ll take some time to develop his own approach to foreign dealings. And a real factor will be that his command of English isn’t yet such as to make him comfortable in meetings, like those in ASEAN, which are conducted in English. Putting those considerations together, there must be a question whether he will attend all the various summits (APEC, G20, East Asia Summit/ASEAN) scheduled in the near future.

It’s probably true to say that the new president has less experience or knowledge of Australia than any of his predecessors. He would have at the most only the sketchiest view of the extent of Australia–Indonesia relations, nor would he have more than the beginning of an idea for how the relationship might be approached in future. He may not announce his cabinet and other appointments for some days, and many of those will have particular significance for Australia, including foreign affairs, trade, defence, agriculture, mining, police, customs and immigration. He has announced his intention to appoint technocrats rather than politicians to some of the key areas and that will bring some collective memory of dealings with Australia into the new administration.

Some of those memories will be positive. These include effective cooperation between the two countries in counterterrorism; their joint promotion of regional initiatives in areas like disaster preparedness, counterterrorism and sustainable fisheries; long-standing defence and development relationships; and extensive assistance to Indonesian agencies dealing with issues including transport safety and security, immigration and finance. But on the other hand, there’ll be memories of issues, including relatively recent issues, where the two countries have had highly-visible fallings-out, notably on boats and spying allegations.

For its part, the Australian government will have clear ideas about where it’ll want to develop the relationship with Indonesia, both for the long term and in the immediate future. Those will include some familiar security and development agendas; and working to expand the currently undercooked trade, investment and people-to-people relationships. The government’s well aware of the nationalistic and protectionist sentiments which have been evident across the political spectrum in Indonesia during the election campaign and since; and of the potential for such sentiments to affect Australian commercial interests in areas like agricultural exports and mining, as well as the negotiation of the mooted Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

For the next few months at least, Australia will be dealing with a president, and an administration, working their way into the job and not primarily focused on external relations. On past experience, we may see a tendency to activism from Australia in the form of ministerial contacts with the new government. That may also be a testing period if issues arise that press nationalistic buttons on the Indonesian side, and a resurgence of the boats issue would be perhaps the most worrying of any such prospect, given the Australian government’s political imperatives.

Bill Farmer is a former Australian Ambassador to Indonesia. Edited image courtesy of Flickr user hadi.

Canberra’s unholy trinity

APH facadeHere’s Canberra lore—or three rules of an Unholy Trinity—explaining how politicians operate. When nothing makes sense, rely on the Trinity pulsing beneath the surface of party, parliament and government:

  1. It’s always personal
  2. There’s always a deal
  3. Follow the money.

I claim no custody of this lore. Spend four decades in the company of politicians in this town and the Unholy Trinity becomes a trusty guide. The rules have general application. Thucydides would have jotted them down if only he’d spent more time in the press gallery. Machiavelli penned a version for princes. Read more

When the Trinity parades in public, the rules appear as power, politics and policy. Rule one, the personal, is the power dimension. Rule two, the deal, is the politics. And money is ever a synonym for policy. In this discussion, other fundamentals of passion, principle and purpose sit on a different mountain—one at the other end of the range, shrouded in cloud.

To jargonise, the rules describe crucial inputs; the outputs are government and legislation. Government and law are done in writing while the Trinity operates an oral culture. The personal calculations and deals are done face to face. Talking comes first. The write-up happens later to dress the deal as policy. The Canberra press gallery reports politics as high-gossip-with-added-facts-and-figures to hint at what goes on in the big building under the giant flag, home to the three rules, two Houses and one government:

1. It’s always personal
The ‘What’s in it for me?’ and ‘How could this hurt me?’ questions are only part of the rule, although never to be discounted. As Jack Lang taught Paul Keating; ‘Bet on self-interest, it’s a horse that’s always trying’. Beyond glory and greed, render ‘always personal’ as the ‘will to power’, with all the personality baggage loaded onto that one phrase—ambition, ego, hatred, fear. Only driven personalities apply. The terrain is treacherous, the rewards as great as the risks. More fall off the mountain than reach the peak.

Isaiah Berlin catches the first two rules in Political Judgement when arguing that the politician’s art has few ‘laws’ and little ‘science’. Instead, personal instinct and skills are decisive. The skilled politician grasps ‘the unique combination of characteristics that constitute this particular situation—this and no other…the character of a particular moment, of a particular individual, of a unique state of affairs, of a unique atmosphere, of some particular combination of economic, political, personal factors’.

The ‘always personal’ rule is about the individual politician’s mix of experience, imagination, intuition and luck. Then the rule broadens to encompass the personalities of all the other politicians in the tribe (party), because the best allies and worst enemies sit beside you. Skill is about seizing the emerging pattern or surviving the crisis, making the call or doing the deal, building for a win or swerving to minimise loss. At the peak, this is Bismarck’s statesman able to hear the footsteps of history; down on the lower slopes it’s doing the numbers and judging the mood of caucus. While no qualification is needed to be a politician, a lot of qualities are needed to be good at it.

2. There’s always a deal
If to govern is to choose, then to politic is to deal. Australians want good government and law but aren’t keen on the politics that produce those fine sausages. Barry Humphries, comic genius, national treasure, and creator of snout-in-the-trough-supremo Sir Les Patterson, delivers a verdict from the heart of Oz, mocking Canberra’s dramas as ‘the battle of the dwarves’. A more understanding but equally ironic version was that of a wonderful old press gallery hack who used to proclaim in the non-members bar: ‘I’m shocked, shocked to discover that base and grubby politics is being played here in the heart of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia’.

The oral culture of the deal can burst into spectacular view: the Kirribilli agreement when Hawke promised Keating the succession in front of two witnesses and the similar moment when Howard promised to hand over to Costello because ‘one-and-a-half terms would be enough’. Both leaders reneged, which points you straight back to rule one on power and personality.

3. The golden rule is that gold rules.
When you can’t decipher the personalities, and the deals are safely secret, the money trail points the way up the mountain.

With the rules as aid, turn to the memoir by Australia’s 27th Prime Minister. My Story is a good and revealing work, although often in ways Julia Gillard might not intend. She writes how her eyes were set on the far peak where purpose and principle reside, but the Real Story is the struggle on the mountain where the Unholy Trinity rules.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalist fellow. Image courtesy of Flickr user Dave Sutherland.

ASPI suggests

President SBY will hand over the presidency to Joko Widodo on Monday.

On Monday, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will hand over the keys to the world’s fourth most populous country and Southeast Asia’s largest state to the president-elect, Joko Widodo aka Jokowi. To find out what that means for Australia, the Lowy Institute’s Aaron Connelly has a new paper on Indonesia’s foreign policy under President Jokowi. With useful backgrounders on key figures in Jokowi’s inner advisory circle, the paper examines the impact they may have on the country’s global outlook and Indonesia’s bilateral relations with its southern neighbour.

According to Dutch law, it’s not illegal for Dutch bikies to fight with the Kurds against Islamic State. It is illegal, however, if they want to join a fight against the Netherlands or join the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). Keep reading here.

With the world currently gripped with the biosecurity risk associated with the Ebola virus, you wouldn’t think genetic engineering would be the next big global security threat. Writing in Foreign Affairs, Jamie Metzl argues that the time has come to debate the ‘national security implications of the human genetic revolution … to prevent dangerous future conflict and abuse’. Closer to home, he writes:

And what would the United States do if it learned that China had an effective human genetic enhancement initiative that would give China an insurmountable competitive advantage in a few decades?

While a bit alarmist, the piece raises some interesting points about the implications of combining human and animal genes, unequal global access to genetic engineering and the policy approach to this issue. Keep reading here. Read more

If running operations in the Middle East and responding to Ebola in West Africa—among other things—weren’t enough, the Pentagon released a report (PDF) this week that states climate change ‘poses immediate risks to US national security’. While climate change preparedness for the military isn’t new (it began with the last Bush administration), this is the first time the threat has been framed as a challenge for today, rather than in the future. Mother Jones has a useful run-down on the Pentagon’s report here.

Turning to the Asia-Pacific, Alexei Arbatov of Carnegie’s Moscow Center, argues that cooperation and competition between the US, China and Russia will determine the region’s nuclear outlook. The piece discusses at length China’s strategic posture, missile systems and nuclear arms limitations. He suggests Beijing’s nuclear arsenal might be bigger than expected which will challenge the nuclear disarmament process.

Former Army officer and Soldier On CEO, John Bale, has written (PDF) that the Australian Army exhibits higher levels of stigma towards PTSD and higher barriers to care when compared to Navy or Air Force. Beginning with an overview of PTSD, his paper examines initiatives by the Canadian, British and American militaries to de-stigmatise the condition, including the use of ‘operational stress injury’ to better describe psychological difficulties resulting from service.

Former US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (also known affectionately as ‘Uncle Leon’ on Twitter) has released his book, Worthy Fights: a memoir of leadership in war and peace. Adding to the library of recent political memoirs taking aim at the Obama government, Panetta describes the White House as unwilling to devolve power to its Cabinet and that the power vacuum left after its failure to secure a Status of Forces Agreement with Nouri al-Maliki contributed to the rise of ISIS. For a frank assessment, read David Ignatius’ review in the New York Times.

Lastly, and on a lighter note, dogs have played a faithful role by soldiers’ sides in many conflicts. Building on her weekly war dog column in Foreign Policy, a new book by Rebecca Fraenkel shares her insights into the furry world of the military working dog, from deployments in Vietnam to Iraq to their use in PTSD (or operational stress injury) treatment today.


For a thought-provoking look at the human condition, psychology professor and expert witness on Abu Ghraib, Philip Zimbardo has a TED talk on why good people do bad things (part 1 of an NPR series on The Violence Within Us). He reflects on the results of his notorious 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, funded by the US Office of Naval Research, and how its lessons in authority and institutions can help us understand the acts of torture and abuse committed at Abu Ghraib.


The Kokoda Foundation is currently recruiting future strategic leaders to speak at its next round of Kokoda Next, where they’ll present to an audience of Defence and national security leaders. If you’ve got a fresh idea on Australia’s security thinking, apply by Monday 31 October. Register here.

Australia is involved in the early stages of a long conflict in the Middle East against extremism. Join us for a panel discussion with Peter Leahy, Peter Jennings and Tobias Feakin, moderated by Cath McGrath on the three fronts of this conflict (between Sunnis and Shias, between radicals against regional governments, and between groups of radicals against the West and the West) and Australia’s response. The event is free and will be held on Tuesday 21 October at ASPI offices at 5.30pm. Register here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of the official website of the President of the Republic of Indonesia

Graph of the week

Graph - salary increase comparatorsThe government’s offer of a 1.5% p.a. pay rise for each of the next three years in exchange for a reduction in leave entitlements and other allowances has been met with dismay. This is one of those issues where the facts speak for themselves. So here are some facts:

According to the government’s own figures, inflation is projected to be 2.25% in 2014-15 and 2.5% for the three years after. With a little arithmetic, this means that the government’s offer of 1.5% per annum would result in a cumulative reduction of 2.66% in real terms over the next 36 months. Compared with the remainder of the labour force, the picture is worse still. The government projects that the Wage Price Index will run at 3% over the next two years.

Two things are noteworthy in this regard. First, the Defence budget is indexed at 2.5% per annum to take account of inflation. Second, the ADF workforce has been quarantined from efficiency dividends under the current and previous governments. It follows that an inflation-matching salary increase of 2.5% per annum could be afforded from within existing funding without redirection from other programs (consistent with the government’s 2014 Public Sector Workplace Bargaining Policy). Read more

Current ADF salary rates and allowances can be found here. For those without the time to work through the labyrinth of numbers, a benchmark is as a follows. The salary plus service allowance for a sergeant in the army roughly equates with average adult full-time earnings in Australia (~$78,000). Higher ranks get paid more, lower ranks less—though specialist skills can make a significant difference.

Looking over time (see chart above), ADF salary increases have consistently outpaced inflation; and growth in average weekly full-time ordinary earnings has done the same, but by a wider margin. The latter is presumably a reflection of a structural shift in the Australian economy to higher productivity jobs.  Defence APS salaries and ADF salaries are bootstrapped onto each other, thereby explaining their overlapping trajectories.

Finally some context is worth taking into account. The government has frozen the pay of parliamentarians and senior public servants as of July 1 2014, so they’ll experience an even higher percentage real loss of salary than ADF members if the present offer goes through. However, this needs to be seen in the context of the 31% pay increase awarded to parliamentarians in 2012 (along with the 27% increase in remuneration awarded to the Chief and the Defence Force and a similar rise for departmental secretaries over the period 2012 to 2014).

As I said, the facts speak for themselves.

Mark Thomson is senior analyst for defence economics at ASPI. Image (c) ASPI 2014.

Good Barack, bad Bibi

Obama NetanyahuWhen it comes to cutting a nuclear deal, Tehran has to be convinced that Iran will be punished if it reneges on a deal and rewarded if it complies. The solution to that problem rests in the currently troubled US–Israeli alliance.

The ability to determine if Iran is complying with a deal hinges upon both the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) ability to monitor Iran’s progress towards denuclearisation and reliable intelligence—neither of which is foolproof. Many skeptics fear that as Iran’s economy recovers from years of mismanagement and isolation, the hardliners will use their country’s newfound largesse to refuel their nuclear program. They rightly point out that once the sanctions regime is unwound it will be harder to put back together again. International businesses benefiting from access to Iranian markets will lobby hard against sanctions being reimposed even if Iran is caught cheating.

The instruments that the most significant actors in the region have at their disposal vis-à-vis Iran allow them to take different parts in the same play. Many continue to believe—mistakenly—that any settlement rests upon the Americans doling out sticks while the French and the Russians serve up the carrots. However, one Great Recession and two quagmires later it’s time for a change in roles. Read more

A bad cop working with an even worse cop leads criminals to ‘lawyer up’. In the context of the ongoing negotiations with Iran, such a combination compels Tehran to race for the bomb harder than before. The accused can easily exploit two good cops. But a (moderately) bad cop paired with a (moderately) good cop can be a potent combination for coercive diplomacy.

The most effective bad cop is one that can credibly commit to the use of force. As pointed out in Leon Panetta’s recent memoir, Barack Obama damaged the US’s credibility when he drew a red line in relation to Syria’s chemical weapons attacks, then erased it. But that’s not a problem for Benjamin Netanyahu. When the latter makes a threat, he keeps it (for example, Israeli strikes in Syria). If we assume for the moment that Israel carried out a strike on the Parchin facility, that further demonstrates Bibi is perfectly positioned to dispense punishments. Although several hawkish figures in the governing coalition openly criticised his handling of last summer’s Gaza War, Netanyahu does not currently face a serious challenger within or outside his government. Even if he were to withdraw from politics, a conservative constellation of forces is likely to remain in power in Israel for some time, meaning that whoever succeeds him would be equally likely to strike Iran should it attempt to cross the nuclear Rubicon.

The US is still wary of using force after its gruelling experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama Administration certainly can’t be accused of having knocked ISIS off its feet. But that puts it in a stronger position to play the good cop. The US can offer Iran sanctions relief and access to world markets; Israel cannot. Furthermore, the US can provide Iran with an ‘exit option’ vis-à-vis Russia. During the November 2013 talks in Vienna, an Iranian negotiator bluntly stated, ‘We don’t want to be dependent on Russia for the lifetime of Bushehr’.

There are many reasons to be skeptical that a deal will be reached in November. It may prove an irony of history that in order for one of Barack Obama’s primary foreign policy goals to succeed, he will need to rely on Benjamin Netanyahu.

Albert Wolf is an Israel Institute Fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Edited image courtesy of Flickr user Barack Obama.

Jokowi and Australia–Indonesia relations

Will Australia-Indonesia relations take further flight?
On Monday 20 October Joko Widodo (Jokowi) will be inaugurated as Indonesia’s seventh president. Australia–Indonesia relations will shift to a new and more mature plane due to differences in character between Jokowi and his predecessor, highly contested domestic politics, and Indonesia’s potential economic ascent. The certainties of the past will be shaken as a more engaged President seeks to show that a civilian can command respect as home and abroad. At the same, the Prabowo-led opposition coalition will seek to diminish his standing and achievements in the eyes of the electorate.

Despite much speculation, little is known of Jokowi’s foreign and defence policy except that he’s a pragmatist with few political debts to limit or distort his policy options. Even so, his options will be anchored by history and geopolitical realities. There’ll be no fundamental change in Indonesia’s ‘free and active’ foreign policy. And geographic imperatives will tie Indonesia’s primary focus to the region, despite inclinations in some quarters for Indonesia to take a more assertive global role. Nevertheless, within those boundaries there’s considerable scope for innovation in style and substance. Read more

Australia’s interests in the region largely coincide with Indonesia’s; we both want to take advantage of China’s economic growth and prosperity without having China use force or the threat of force—physical or non-physical—to dictate inter-state relations or the terms of trade. Both countries also want to preserve the sovereignty of national borders while acknowledging that cooperation across them is essential for their preservation and mutual security in the broadest sense.

No civilian president since Sukarno has been a great achiever so Jokowi will want to demonstrate that he can protect and advance the national interest in a dynamic and competitive global environment. He’ll have to respond vigorously to any incursions of Indonesia’s borders or slights to its rising regional and global status both to demonstrate his competence and to neutralise his political opponents. Nevertheless, his primary focus will be on stimulating economic growth without which his standing and chance of a second term will be severely undermined.

Jokowi will have many regional and global suitors eager to take advantage of the potential economic opportunities in Indonesia or to influence its foreign policy. Australia will have to move quickly and adroitly both to preserve its current standing and cooperative endeavours and to promote its relatively small and concentrated share of investment and trade.

The Australia–Indonesia defence relationship is long standing but only one of many to engage Indonesia’s attention. Its biggest relationship is with the US but Indonesia has diversified its foreign relations to minimize the potential for its defence and security options to be dictated by external players either individually or in combination. Australia’s advantage is that it doesn’t have much leverage over Indonesian policy—but it’s here to stay and no threat to its neighbour. Consequently, there’s scope for a strong and genuine partnership unencumbered by fundamental conflicts of interest, despite the occasional friction generated by non-state actors, cross-border activities, economic competition, media criticism and terrorism.

If Jokowi can achieve his economic growth target of 7% or more, Indonesia will have the resources to deepen bilateral engagement across the range of established programs, from education to public sector reform and defence and security. As a recent article by Edward Aspinall in Strategic Review has highlighted, the only question is whether Jokowi will succeed in implementing the fundamental reforms needed if Indonesia is to maximise its economic potential, given the destructive opposition that an attack on endemic corruption and rent-seeking will inevitably incite?

Meanwhile, Australia should concentrate on establishing personal relationships across the new administration without being too pushy. The aim should be to seek support for existing cooperative measures and activities and to offer to adapt those to the Jokowi government’ priorities. We could also offer to assist in areas that might be of greater priority to the new administration.

For example, Jokowi has already expressed great interest in making better use of Indonesia’s maritime endowment for transport and resource exploitation as well as stopping its unauthorised exploitation by domestic and foreign actors. That will require improved surveillance and reconnaissance, the capacity to intercept suspected interlopers and basic research about the nature of resources found in the maritime domain. Australia has skills and capabilities in both the public and private sectors in all those areas which could be engaged to the advantage of both countries. Likewise, Indonesia’s aerospace domain is also being revolutionised by both dramatic increases in air transport and the use of space for communications, and mapping and surveillance. Australia again has expertise and capabilities in those areas and they could be employed for the benefit of both parties.

There are many other common security interests where Australia and Indonesia could cooperate, from the resolution of border disputes to counter-terrorism. But the key is to identify and prioritise those areas of common interest and to seek a genuine long-term partnership—one that’ll endure the normal ups and downs of neighbourly relations and the stresses engendered by the demands and priorities of the big powers.

Bob Lowry is an adjunct lecturer at the UNSW Canberra, Australian Defence Force Academy. Image courtesy of Flickr user Yamanaka Tamaki.

Time to start thinking about land-based anti-ship missiles

HY-1 launch vehicle in the Beijing military museum. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has developed an impressive array of land-based anti-ship missile systems, which are part of a robust sea-denial capability. That growing capability is forcing the United States (US) and Australia to rethink Pacific strategy. Some are now asking why the US, and Australia for that matter, have no land-based anti-ship missile systems in their inventory. After all, we want to be able to do sea denial in Asia as well. So, should we be developing our own?

Both the US and Australia have other anti-ship systems in their arsenal of air and sea-launched weapons. But there’s a real prospect that land-based systems would pay operational and strategic dividends. That’s a view that has also been recently expressed by members of the US Congress, think tanks, and scholars. Read more

Some definitions are helpful here: sea denial is the ability to deny or prevent an adversary from operating in an area of the sea. On the other hand, sea control is the ability to operate freely in a maritime area while preventing adversaries from doing the same. Sea control requires that you have sea denial, but also that you can prevent an adversary from exercising effective sea denial over the same area. For years, sea control has required the integration of air and sea power. Though land-based systems alone can provide only sea denial and not sea control, the joint integration of land-, sea-, and air-based systems would be a powerful tool in gaining and maintaining sea control, especially in littoral regions.

The development of China’s maritime-denial missile capabilities puts enormous pressure on the US and its allies in the Western Pacific. Gone are the days of having the capability to impose sea control just about anywhere. Furthermore, China’s carrier, aircraft, and submarine programs suggest a desire in Beijing for some measure of sea control and power projection in the future—in the current context of strategic rivalry, that indicates a serious challenge to the US in the Asia-Pacific region. Whether this challenge manifests itself peacefully or violently will depend in part on how the US and its allies employ military power across all domains.

The three strongest arguments for land-based systems can be categorised as lower escalation risk, strategic flexibility, and mitigation of platform vulnerability.

Land-based systems, especially if they are mobile, deployable and of limited range, (like Japan’s type 88s) will provide leaders with a denial option that is less threatening and so less prone to escalation. That point is made effectively by naval strategists Toshi Yoshihara and James R. Holmes. Simply put, deploying a carrier group or air assets in response to actions involving territorial disputes may threaten the sovereign territory and vital interests of an adversary. Using anti-ship missiles to impose only sea-denial in a disputed area of operations is inherently defensive and less threatening, which gives leaders the option to demonstrate resolve in protecting economic exclusion zones and littoral regions without directly threatening undisputed sovereign territory. Choosing land-based anti-ship systems as a flexible deterrent option increases opportunities for peaceful resolution.

Deployable and non-deployable (fixed) land-based systems also would allow the US and Australia to maximise the power of their existing sea-control assets in a conflict by providing strategic and operational flexibility. By using deployable land-based systems in littoral regions and fixed systems at key choke points along sea lines of communication, allied leaders could then surge air and sea power to more critical and decisive regions.

Perhaps the most compelling argument is that it’s becoming harder to ensure the survivability of platforms (with the relative exception of submarines) against a capable adversary. Air-Sea Battle, with all the risks that it entails, appears in part intended to provide an environment where US carriers can survive in a conflict in the Western Pacific. The high cost per unit of fifth-generation aircraft (the F-22 and to a lesser extent the F-35) is also a result of the great challenge of keeping them flying till they can successfully launch their weapons, and hopefully return home. By contrast, hardening fixed missile sites is likely to provide inexpensive survivability for a land-based systems.

There are still many questions ahead in the research concerning ground-based systems. For example, developing those weapons may require withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. That treaty limits ground-based missile systems to a range of less than 499km, or more than 5,500. But the US alleges Russia has already violated the treaty. And, of course China was never a signatory, so its current systems are unhindered by the treaty’s provisions. Additionally, the defence community must weigh the advantages of hardened and fixed systems versus mobile and deployable ones. Finally, other characteristics, including speed, range, and targeting systems, require consideration and analysis.

While there are challenges, any capability which preserves or enhances allied capacity to deny the Western Pacific and reduces the risks to (and our dependence on) carrier-based air-power would have to be extremely expensive not to merit further investigation. (ASPI has initiated research on the subject so watch this space for further publications and analysis.) Land-based anti-ship missiles could easily have a larger role in underpinning America’s position in Asia, and that means they’re important to Australia’s strategists and policymakers.

Lieutenant Colonel Jan K. Gleiman is an active duty US Army officer and a visiting fellow at ASPI from United States Pacific Command. The views expressed in this post are his own. Harry White is an analyst at ASPI. Image of courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Indian Ocean Rim Association: a progress report

HMAS Perth transits through the Southern Indian Ocean as an Orion P-3K of the Royal New Zealand Air Force searches for debris as part of Operation SOUTHERN INDIAN OCEAN.

The Indian Ocean littoral region’s resources and economic growth are attracting greater political attention. So it’s surprising there wasn’t more press coverage of last week’s meeting in Perth of the 20 member-states of the Indian Ocean Rim Association. IORA aims to spearhead future regional integration as the Indian Ocean grows in economic importance.

Australia is chairing the Association—until next year, when we hand over the role to the current vice chair, Indonesia. IORA’s the only pan-regional forum in the Indian Ocean that tries to address challenges faced by the more than 2 billion people who live around the Indian Ocean rim. Its priority issues include maritime safety and security, trade and investment facilitation, fisheries management, disaster risk-management, and academic, science and technology, tourism and cultural exchanges. Read more

Membership of IORA is in demand. Somalia’s in the queue to join the association, although there are still a few formalities before that’s finalised. Myanmar and Maldives are also applying to join. But Somalia’s application signifies a new and constructive development: IORA members recognise that the international community has made significant investments in the area adjacent to its 1700-kilometre coastline, and Somalia needs to be constructively engaged (presumably IORA would do that once Somalia’s membership begins.)

A key outcome from the Perth meeting was a greater focus on business: for the first time there was an IORA Business Week that looked at increasing trade and investment flows in the region.

The grouping issued an IORA Economic Declaration (PDF) issued that centred on the so-called ‘blue economy': creating oceans industries such as port development, fisheries, aquaculture, renewable energy, mineral exploration, and marine-based tourism. The Declaration picks up on the key message of last year’s IORA declaration on the principles for peaceful, productive and sustainable use of the Indian Ocean and its resources.

If there’s to be greater Australian focus on the oceans as part of our economic diplomacy, that strengthens the case for an Australian Office of Ocean Affairs to coordinate DFAT’s oceans expertise.

In Perth we supported IORA’s economic declaration by establishing a fund of a $1m dollars to support economic diplomacy initiatives and activities in the Indian Ocean region.

No doubt some of that money could support Australia’s commitment at the Perth meeting to host an Indian Ocean Dialogue next year. That would build on a similar exercise held in India recently. It would be useful in promoting thinking on different aspects of regional cooperation and complement IORA’s discussions.

The MH370 tragedy highlighted gaps in search and rescue in the Indian Ocean and the need for regular SAR exercises in the region. At this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue, Defence Minister David Johnston proposed Australia facilitate a regular multilateral search-and-rescue exercise in the future, that’s ‘practically focused, designed to strengthen interoperability, and to build fraternal connections’.

Streamlining SAR efforts was therefore a key objective of the Perth meeting. And last week five countries (Singapore, Australia, Seychelles, Comoros and South Africa) signed an MOU on search-and-rescue cooperation developed by IORA. Hopefully more states will sign on in the near future. To support the MOU Australia usefully committed $2.6 million to working with Sri Lanka, Mauritius and the Maldives (the three countries bordering our SAR region) on responding to maritime and aviation distress situations.

The Perth meeting also saw increasing involvement by IORA’s dialogue partners. I’ve argued before that we should be encouraging this process. So it was positive that there was very high-level representation in Perth from the United States and China (both dialogue partners).

There were other positive developments, IORA’s sub groups—the Indian Ocean Rim Business Forum and Indian Ocean Rim Academic Group—were given stronger mandates to provide more focus and expert advice to IORA. There was an agreement to better resource IORA’s Secretariat to service the needs of the organisation.

But it’s a pity that little attention appeared to be given to closer connections between the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium and IORA in addressing maritime confidence-building measures in the region. Potential for cooperation there was highlighted at the recent Trilateral Dialogue on the Indian Ocean. The issue could be explored at the second Indian Ocean Dialogue that we’ll be hosting in 2015.

Regional cooperation is critical for the creation of a stable and prosperous Indian Ocean. At the half-way point of Australia’s chairmanship of IORA, good progress was made in Perth on the Association’s development towards a regional institution that’s able to respond effectively to a range of economic and security challenges.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Australia’s latest commitment

A Royal Australian Air Force  F/A-18F Super Hornet loaded with explosive ordnance  in the Middle East.Defence analysis is my core business, so I thought I’d share my views about Australia’s decision about going to war again in the Middle East. As I’ll argue below, I think we’re doing the right thing, but I’m far from sure. Beware of ‘expert predictions’—I’m already on the public record with one observation on this conflict that was at the least premature, and may yet prove to be just plain wrong.

The reasons for my uncertainty are many. When I came to set out my thinking, it became painfully obvious that I’d have to include a long list of caveats: I’m not an expert on the Middle East, I speak none of the relevant languages (something that’s important when trying to understand the motives and thoughts of other people), and I have little understanding for the underlying cultural and religious issues. And I fear that those characteristics are shared by many Western decision makers—which would go a long way towards explaining the litany of policy failures in the region over many years. Read more

At the risk of producing a piece that’s too even-handed to be interesting, let’s start by setting out the pros and cons of Western involvement in this conflict. Starting at the strategic level, preventing ISIS from getting its hands on the full suite of capabilities provided by a reasonably modern industrialised state is a sensible goal. And having a geographically-significant part of a region already riven with sectarian tensions under ISIS’ control is surely worth avoiding.

Set against that is the difficulty of predicting the consequences of either success or failure against ISIS. I’ve yet to hear anyone articulate a coherent view of what the future looks like for Iraq or Syria, and then there’s the uncertainty of the impact on Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. And can the West avoid being caught up in other nations’ political manoeuvres—such as Turkey’s positioning with respect to the Kurds? I don’t know how to evaluate the strategic cost-benefit balance.

Operationally, things are more clear-cut, at least for now. Adopting a policy of ‘air strikes only’ allows the West to intervene confident of being able to do so without loss and to engage and disengage as it sees fit. Of course, that changes dramatically if Hugh White’s right and there’s an escalation to the deployment of large-scale land forces.

My judgment last week was that air strikes would be able to limit the ability of ISIS to continue to overrun large areas of Iraq and eventually take effective control of the state. I said there’d already been a strategic win in that respect—clearly an error. In any case, I never thought that air power can defeat an opponent who can cease to be a conventional combatant and become an insurgent at will. Even if it can’t wrest control itself, through a mixture of conventional and unconventional attacks ISIS can render Iraq ungovernable (Syria already is.)

Last, but certainly not least, there’s the moral side of the balance sheet. I see two moral arguments for involvement. The first is that we can. If we stand by and watch atrocities of the sort we’ve been seeing lately, then we’ve decided they’re less unacceptable than becoming involved. The argument that the West only intervenes selectively to protect innocents, while true, doesn’t sway me. Stopping some bad things from happening is surely preferable to stopping none. I don’t go as far as subscribing to a ‘responsibility to protect’—that could turn into a heavy burden to bear—but every time we don’t there’s a moral downside. The second moral argument is that we helped create this situation, though I think we can go too far with that argument. Those events are now in the past and present-day decisions should be made only on the basis of our best assessment of potential future outcomes.

The only moral reason against intervention is that we could, again, end up making things worse. Perhaps it’s a failure of my imagination, but I don’t really see how much worse it could be than to have ISIS in control of Syria and Iraq—and potentially other areas later.

Bad things are happening, and regardless of what we do, bad things are likely to continue to happen—though if we act we could make things less bad. Intervening has a cost; the risk of an act of violence in Australia is probably higher than before the commitment, and there’s a clear danger of mission creep, escalation and entrapment. But not intervening has a cost too, and we could face a dreadful future enemy if we do nothing.

I think we’re doing the right thing, but I can’t be sure. These are profoundly difficult issues, and take my pondering for what it’s worth. But I only have to write about it. Decision makers in Canberra, Washington and elsewhere have to make these calls knowing that history will judge them. I don’t envy them.

Andrew Davies is senior analyst for defence capability and director of research at ASPI. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.