Islam and terrorism: should our leaders be linking the two?

Terrorists operating against Western targets claim their acts are inspired, and in many cases required, by Islam. But should our leaders be openly linking Islam and terrorism or is it better if they publicly deny any such links?

In his National Security statement on Monday (video above) Prime Minister Tony Abbott made it clear where he stood on that question:

‘I’ve often heard Western leaders describe Islam as a ‘religion of peace’. I wish more Muslim leaders would say that more often, and mean it. I have often cited Prime Minister Najib of Malaysia, who has described the Islamist death cult as ‘against God, against Islam and against our common humanity’. In January, President al Sisi told the imams at Egypt’s al Azhar university that Islam needed a ‘religious revolution’ to sweep away centuries of false thinking. Everybody, including Muslim community leaders, needs to speak up clearly because, no matter what the grievance, violence against innocents must surely be a blasphemy against all religion.’

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John Hudson at Foreign Policy, writing about last week’s White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, noted that neoconservatives ‘blasted the White House for not focusing exclusively on radical Islam’, while civil-rights groups pointed out that incidents of extremist violence attributable to Muslims are only a fraction of those carried out in the United States.

Our political elites aren’t experts on the Islamic religion. They won’t have much credibility disputing Muslim scholars who point to Islamic sources that reject terrorist behavior. But does that then require them to keep silent on the issue of any links between Islam and terrorism? There’s a strong argument that Islam, like Christianity, is neither a violent nor a peaceful religion: it contains texts that legitimize both, (although there’s no Islamic equivalent of a Pope who can rule on those controversies.)

Publicly saying there’s a link might be self-defeating: it could stir up trouble with moderate Muslims who oppose terrorism. And most political leaders will want to avoid being open to the charge that they’re somehow at war with Islam. It’s a sensitive and complex debate. But I’d side with Thomas Friedman’s recent take on this issue:

‘When you don’t call things by their real name, you always get in trouble…I am all for restraint on the issue, and would never hold every Muslim accountable for the acts of a few. But it is not good for us or the Muslim world to pretend that this spreading jihadist violence isn’t coming out of their faith community. It is coming mostly, but not exclusively, from angry young men and preachers on the fringe of the Sunni Arab and Pakistani communities in the Middle East and Europe.’

Friedman cites with approval Asra Q. Nomani, an American Muslim born in India.  She argues that there’s a loose, well-funded coalition of governments and private individuals ‘that tries to silence debate on extremist ideology in order to protect the image of Islam.’ Nomani says this coalition

‘throws the label of “Islamophobe’’ on pundits, journalists and others who dare to talk about extremist ideology in the religion…The official and unofficial channels work in tandem, harassing, threatening and battling introspective Muslims and non-Muslims everywhere…The bullying often works to silence critics of Islamic extremism…They cause governments, writers and experts to walk on eggshells.’

It’s clear from Tony Abbott’s remarks on Monday that he’s not about to be bullied by critics. On Sunday a statement signed by 64 Australian Islamic organisations (including Hizb ut-Tahrir) and 42 community and religious leaders was released. It stated they opposed Abbott’s ‘politically convenient’ threats to crack down on Islamic groups who have been bold enough to speak out about his stance towards Muslims. I’m looking forward to seeing this collection of individuals and groups issue a statement on terrorism, al-Qaeda and ISIL, making it clear that they won’t tolerate those who try to impose their values on others by killing people.

In this context, it was encouraging to see what occurred in Norway over the weekend: more than 1000 Muslims formed a human shield around Oslo’s synagogue, offering symbolic protection for the city’s Jewish community and condemning a recent attack on a synagogue in Denmark.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Video courtesy of YouTube user Liberal Party of Australia.

Flight Path

A No.6 Squadron F-111 'dump and burn' at the 2007 Avalon Air Show.

This week’s update discusses American drone exports, the state of Russian and Indian fifth-generation fighters, new technology advancements and complications, and the upcoming 2015 Australian International Air Show.

First, last Tuesday US President Barack Obama approved a new policy allowing US companies to export armed drones to US allies (previously limited to the UK). It’s not exactly a free-for-all—requests are to be assessed on a case-by-case basis, with agreement contingent on ‘proper use’ principles. The unclassified version of the list stipulates drones must obey international law, and must not be used unlawfully against their owner’s domestic population. How the principles address the assassination of suspected terrorists remains unclear. While the US debates the proper use of drones, India is expanding its own surveillance drone program. India recently signed two separate deals with Israel Aerospace Industries and the American company, AeroVironment. Read more

As India deepens its defence manufacturing ties with the US (observed in its most recent Indian–US Defense Trade and Technology Initiative) speculation is growing about a declining India–Russia bond. That’s been further reinforced by news of their strained relationship developing the Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA jet fighters. Still, notwithstanding Indian frustrations at Russian unwillingness to share design information and workload, the Russian United Aircraft Corporation has confirmed it’s set to receive the first batch of the fifth-generation fighters in 2016 and is expecting India to sign a contract for the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft in 2015.

Back to technology, discussions in the US have begun on updating the F-15 and F-16 fighters, and retiring the Fairchild-Republic A-10, as well as the U-2 and Global Hawk drones. Rob Weis from Lockheed Martin’s advanced development program advocated for the development of an unmanned program to replace the functions of both the U-2 and Global Hawk drones. Alternatively, Northrop Grumman is developing a ‘universal payload adapter’ to take the sensor suite from a U-2 and fit it to the drone. Similar discussions about the nature and needs of the future battlefield have also begun in relation to close air support—in particular, how that mission can be fulfilled in a more contested environment.

Moving to Nigeria, with the support of airstrikes, Nigerian forces seized the border town of Baga from Boko Haram on Saturday. That comes as Nigeria prepares to launch a ground-and-air offensive against the group in tandem with Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

Heading back to Australia, 19 February marked 73 years since the bombing of Darwin in 1942. The commemoration included an RAAF Orion flying over the city. Over the weekend, Canberra held a separate commemoration remembering those who served in World War II. Three F-16C Fighting Falcon aircraft from the Republic of Singapore Air Force ‘Black Knight’s’ aerobatics team were joined by RAAF PC-9A as they closed the service. Coming up this Friday is the Australian International Air Show at Victoria’s Avalon Airport. The special ANZAC centenary celebrations program is a salute to 100 years of military aviation and the heroes of the sky. The tribute will showcase Australian and overseas aircraft from WWI, and WWII, as well as more modern military aircraft.

Operating in conjunction with the International Airshow is the Avalon 2015 Aerospace and Defence Exposition. Running from 24 February to 1 March, the exposition is a biennale event which explores the full range of military and civil aviation, aerospace, land and air defence. Notable events on this year’s program include the prestigious Air Chiefs Symposium, the Australian Association for unmanned systems conference and the Australian International Aerospace Congress.

Yesterday’s Australian paper (paywalled) reported the Chief of Air Force Air Marshall Geoff Brown will be attending the Airshow and Exposition. In the report, Brown claims the air force will become the primary military arm in responding to the increasingly complex needs of government, including but not limited to international terrorism, combat operations and humanitarian missions. Brown’s assertion is founded on Plan Jericho, originally launched in May 2014. The plan seeks to leverage the introduction of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and its information-age technology to transform the Australian air and defence force into a fifth-generation force spearheading the ‘defence of the future’.

Palmo Tenzin is an intern at ASPI. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Australia not pulling its weight in Antarctica

Antarctic Survey Vessel Wyatt Earp Surveying Newcomb Bay.

Two incidents so far this year have highlighted Australia’s inability to protect its sovereignty and discharge its responsibilities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

In the first incident in January, three foreign fishing vessels were apprehended by the RNZN’s offshore patrol vessel, HMNZS Wellington, illegally fishing in Australia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Southern Ocean in breach of the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). While the vessels were initially detected by an Australian surveillance aircraft, Australia did not itself have the ability to respond to the sighting.

After that incident, NZ Foreign Minister McCully said that countering illegal fishing in Southern waters was ‘not straight forward’ and New Zealand needed the cooperation of other members of the CCAMLR Commission. The environmental action group Sea Shepherd criticised the Australian government for ‘leaving the New Zealand government stranded’. Read more

In the second incident which occurred just last week, the Australian fishing vessel Antarctic Chieftain damaged her propellers and became trapped by ice off Antarctica. Australia could not respond and the ship was freed by an American ice-breaker.

Australia has a heavy responsibility for maritime operations that might be required off Antarctica and in the Southern Ocean. We claim a large exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the area, including around our sub-Antarctic island territories, and have search and rescue responsibilities for a large part of the Southern Ocean stretching down to the Antarctic continent. We also host the Secretariat for the CCAMLR Commission—which gives us a strong moral obligation to take an active role in countering illegal fishing in CCAMLR waters.

We have some capability to conduct aerial surveillance in Southern waters, but our marked deficiency is the lack of capability to undertake surface patrol and response. Our current capability is limited to two principal vessels—Ocean Shield, and Aurora Australis—but only one (the latter) is ice-capable and both have other tasks. RAN ships may be available, but none are ice-strengthened and only the fleet replenishment ships, the LHDs and HMAS Choules could undertake extended operations without the support of a tanker.

While other nations are building their presence and capabilities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, Australia has no plans to increase its currently limited capability. In fact, the revelation to the Senate Estimates Committee in February 2013—that we hadn’t deployed a patrol vessel to the Southern Ocean for over a year—suggests that instead of increasing our presence, we’re actually reducing it.

The 2013 Defence White Paper, like its predecessors, was complacent about Antarctica. It noted (at paragraph 2.76) that:

there is no credible risk of Australia’s national interests in the Southern Ocean and the Australian Antarctic Territory being challenged in ways that might require substantial military responses over the next few decades.

While a substantial military response may not be required, our national interests in the region are increasingly threatened. A Strategist article last year outlined those interests. The strategic plan developed for Australia’s Antarctic activities calls for Australia to become a leading Antarctic nation.

A Senate Committee last year accepted a recommendation from Anthony Bergin and myself that a ‘national fleet’ approach should be considered for building the national capability for blue-water operations. That would ensure important capability requirements do not fall down a ‘hole’ between national agencies.

The lack of an effective ice-strengthened offshore patrol vessel in the current national fleet is a prime example of such a ‘hole’. Defence isn’t likely to recommend such a vessel; it doesn’t relate to what it views as ‘core business’, while Customs would regard it as beyond their current border protection requirements.

The Armidale Class replacement will likely be an updated version of the Cape Class vessels being acquired by Customs. Such vessels will be unsuitable for operations in the Southern Ocean and off Antarctica. It would be deplorable to settle on such a vessel without considering our national requirements.

Canada’s building a fleet of Arctic patrol ships. Joining that program by building a limited number of similar vessels for our own requirements would both provide the required capability for operations in the Southern Ocean and off the coast of Antarctica, and help current problems with naval ship-building.

This is an issue that might be considered at ASPI’s Australia’s Future Surface Fleet Conference next month.

Sam Bateman is a professorial research fellow at the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security (ANCORS), University of Wollongong, and also an adviser to the Maritime Security Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Indonesia and Australia: appealing to Jakarta’s strengths

Reconsidering the death penalty would boost Jokowi's democratic political legitimacy

Joko Widodo was elected on the policy platform of defending Indonesia’s political sovereignty and territorial integrity, with a good dose of economic nationalism thrown in. That policy platform now manifests itself in a range of policy areas, most prominently in its sinking of foreign illegal fishing vessels in Indonesian waters and now in the country’s apparent resolve on death row executions.

The interplay of domestic politics and sovereignty in Indonesia’s current political climate render many of the inducements outlined respectively by Peter Jennings and Peter McCawley redundant. It’s highly unlikely, for example, that Indonesia would accept Australia’s intercession ‘with, and on behalf of, Indonesia in their diplomatic actions to stop their citizens being subjected to the death penalty around the world’, as proposed by Jennings. For a country that freed itself from the shackles of western colonialism within living memory, the idea of western states advocating on Indonesia’s behalf wouldn’t sit well. Read more

But there are other reasons also why Jennings’ low-visibility, positive inducements would be ineffective. ‘Active third-party advocacy to support Indonesian ambitions for greater influence in multilateral forums’, doesn’t take sufficient account of Indonesia’s diplomatic history. Multilateralism’s in Indonesia’s DNA, and there are probably few Australians who really appreciate Indonesia’s proprietorial view of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) or its efforts to maintain ASEAN’s centrality in East Asia’s multilateral architecture as a basis for preserving Southeast Asia’s political autonomy vis-à-vis major powers. Nor do many Australians probably appreciate the extent to which concerns about China’s growing economic and political power has preoccupied Indonesia’s foreign policy intellectuals for close to four decades and thus shaped Indonesia’s active approach to regional multilateralism.

Meanwhile, the country’s strategic importance  astride vital sea lanes connecting the Indian Ocean with the South China Sea, translates to increasing attention from major powers vying for influence in Southeast Asia. Basic demographics, a shift in global economic influence and geopolitical factors in Indonesia’s favour render the negative inducements open to Australia (sanctions, cutting defence and intelligence cooperation) largely redundant. Without denigrating the substantive development assistance and security cooperation proffered by Australia to Indonesia, the reality is that Australia probably can’t provide any inducement that Indonesia couldn’t source elsewhere from more influential actors -such as the US, Japan, China, South Korea and Russia.

In response to Jennings, McCawley outlined some policy options available to Jakarta if it ‘wanted to offer an olive branch to Australia’. These ‘positive inducements’ included the abolition of the death penalty along with new support for the Colombo Plan, improved visa access for Australians and expediting negotiations on the Australian Indonesian Economic Partnership Agreement (AIEPA). But Jakarta hasn’t been in any mood to do Canberra favours since spying allegations erupted in November 2013, as Jennings rightly acknowledged. It’s difficult to comprehend why Jakarta would link its abolition of the death penalty to progress on other areas of the bilateral relationship, when the death penalty isn’t a bilateral issue per se, but tied more to Jokowi’s domestic political legitimacy.

So what options does this leave Australia? First, it’s vital, in the interests of Chan and Sukumaran, that other aspects of bilateral engagement are totally disaggregated from the death penalty debate. A growing diplomatic conflagration  only makes it less likely that Widodo will have a change of heart. Second, Australia should appeal to Indonesia’s strengths and avoid talk of punitive measures or aid conditionality. It’s an appeal for Indonesia to build on the legacy of its reformasi process which may best serve the interests of Chan and Sukumaran.

Canberra might remind Jakarta of its proud record on human rights promotion, not just with respect to its citizens in trouble overseas, but its strong normative leadership in ASEAN and in the Bali Democracy Forum.

Remarkably early in Indonesia’s democratisation process, Jakarta championed the promotion of democratic and human rights norms in ASEAN. Through dogged determination, largely by former foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda, and by virtue of the country’s leading status in the grouping, Indonesia moved ASEAN forward on a human rights declaration and commitment to new institutional structures (the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights and the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children). This was achieved in the face of considerable unease and resistance on the part of ASEAN’s more authoritarian members such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Rather than a sign of weakness, a willingness by President Widodo to reconsider the death penalty, would be a tough decision domestically in the short term, but in the longer term would ultimately boost his democratic political legitimacy to both domestic and international constituencies. This isn’t a favour to Australia, but a test of Widodo’s commitment to Indonesia’s democratic future.

Greta Nabbs-Keller is the director of Dragonminster Consulting, a Brisbane-based company providing Indonesia expertise to government and private sector clients. She is a non-resident research fellow of the Perth USAsia Centre. Image courtesy of Flickr user Eduardo M. C. 

Sea State

Soryu-class submarineIt was another big week for submarines here in Australia. Early last week the Defence Minister’s office said that the competitive evaluation process for the Collins-class submarine replacement will involve two distinct stages—a request for information, followed by a request for tender.

By the end of the week, wrote Greg Sheridan in The Australian (paywalled), there had been a full Cabinet meeting on Thursday night, following

‘two meetings earlier in the week of the National Security Committee of the cabinet. There had been sharp divisions within cabinet. Tony Abbott has long had a partiality to Australia acquiring Japanese Soryu submarines and adapting them for Australian conditions.

This is no longer exactly the government’s position. Now there will be a formal, relatively transparent process with Germany, France and Japan invited to participate in the competitive evaluation process.’

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The Australian Government has apparently ruled out Swedish company Saab, much to the displeasure of the South Australian State Government—Saab had previously said it would build the submarines in Adelaide. The Federal Government has promised that at least 500 jobs will be created through local industry partnership with shipbuilders from Japan, Germany, or France. According to the Defence Minister,

‘The Government expects that significant work will be undertaken in Australia as part of the build phase of the future submarine including, but not necessarily limited to, combat-system integration, design assurance and land-based testing.’

Here’s ASPI’s Andrew Davies talking about submarines—particularly the Japanese options—midlast week.

Meanwhile, the Australian Submarine Corporation was at Senate Estimates last week. Here’s Catherine McGrath’s piece on that appearance, and here’s the full transcript.

Two stories on the future of maritime warfare. Adm. Jonathan Greenert of the USN stated in a speech at the Australian National University that lasers ‘are a thing of the future’, noting the significant savings on gunpowder.

And the Kazakh national defence company Kazakhstan Engineering announced on its website that it’ll be working alongside the French firm ECA to produce ten unmanned underwater vehicles. Whilst UUVs won’t be replacing submarines any time soon, Kazakhstan plans to use them for non-combat tasks. For more on the topic, see our own Rosalyn Turner’s article on the future of UUV’s in Australia here.

Immediately to our north, Indonesia’s House of Representatives agreed to inject an additional IDR726.3 trillion (AU$72.2m) to their newly-founded maritime security agency, Badan Keamanan Laut, following suggestions that the initial allocation was insufficient to allow the agency to perform its functions.

There are some new pictures (also here) of China’s land-reclamation efforts on various reefs in the South China Sea. In an article in the Wall Street Journal, the authors note that

‘China appears to be building a network of island fortresses to help enforce control of most of the South China Sea—one of the world’s busiest shipping routes—and potentially of the airspace above, according to experts who have studied the images.’

CSIS has this before/after series of Chinese construction in the South China Sea.

On the South China Sea, the USN said last week that four of Washington’s Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) will operate out of Singapore by 2018 on rotational deployment. And Foreign Affairs has this piece this on the case for ‘archipelagic defence’ in the face of an increasingly assertive and aggressive China. The article argues that by creating a series of linked defences, Washington and its Pacific allies will be able to ‘convince Beijing that it simply cannot achieve its objectives with force’.

Harry White is an analyst at ASPI and Amelia Long is an intern at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user Seong-Woo Seo.

A white paper on the Commonwealth’s law enforcement policy is needed

It's timeIn a town that’s already cluttered with reviews and white papers, do we really need another one?

My answer, which I argue in a new paper released today (available here), is an unequivocal yes.

As far as I can see, the Commonwealth’s role in law enforcement is only going to become deeper and, indeed, broader over time. That’s already seen in the way 70% of our primary organised crime targets live overseas. But the speed, depth and reach of change is being driven by the internet in particular, and the way criminals now use it. Read more

Also, there’s been significant change in the Commonwealth’s law-enforcement system over time, and there’s more to come: the Australian Border Force—as a law-enforcement agency in its own right; the National Commission of Audit’s recommendation to merge (in whole or in part) the CrimTrac Agency and the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) with the Australian Crime Commission; and ongoing questions about whether the Australian Institute of Criminology should stand alone. Regardless of outcomes, those individual structural changes will reshape the Commonwealth’s system for law enforcement over the next few years. But there’s no sign that the system itself will be subjected to examination.

Added to this is the funding concertina that our law enforcement agencies live in. For the next few years, the general trend for Commonwealth law enforcement will be downwards if estimates are accurate: and agencies rightly plan that way. But in the time since last year’s budget, we’ve seen over $630m added to the law enforcement agencies—which has made some recent planning and decisions redundant.

And lastly, all agencies are grappling with challenges in developing and retaining staff with the skills to conduct modern police work, of integrating technology into their organisations, and in information sharing.

A major policy statement is needed now because it would explain what the Australian Government intends to do in the law enforcement space in the future, and how it will work with the other jurisdictions to achieve those aims. A law enforcement white paper process, which would help inform the Federation White Paper that’s now under development, would be a good way to assemble the arguments and allow the federal cabinet to decide on what role it’ll take in this central policy area. It would also provide the clear policy lead for all federal law enforcement and related agencies to do their own forward planning, based on the understanding that they’re contributing to Cabinet’s aims and working as part of an interdependent system.

David Connery is a senior analyst at ASPI. Read the Special Report: A long time coming: the case for a white paper on Commonwealth law enforcement policy. Image courtesy of Flickr user Stéfan.

DFAT swallows WasAID: aidies, tradies and pinstripes

Disaster response, IndonesiaSmoke clears. Agony and anguish ebb. The fallen depart. The integration of AusAID into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade—the greatest revolution in Australia’s foreign policy bureaucracy since 1987—is done, if not dusted.

The word the new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, used in announcing the revolution in September 2013 was ‘integration’, to enable the ‘aid and diplomatic arms of Australia’s international policy agenda to be more closely aligned’. Integrated and aligned is a polite way of saying DFAT swallowed AusAID, then spat out a lot of people.

Abbott was aligning cash and the cachet. AusAID had the money. Foreign had the power. The mismatch between money and power was getting out of hand. Shoving AusAID inside Foreign completed the demise of Canberra’s golden aid consensus, a brief bipartisan commitment to a big boost in international aid. Read more

The gold gushed from the late Howard era through the first Rudd government. The consensus was a product of boom, bible and UN millennialism (Howard’s economic boom, Rudd’s bible). From 2005 to 2010, spending doubled and the aid budget was a protected species. But the lack of political debate about that new protected species reflected the shallowness, not the depth, of the consensus.

When Julia Gillard deposed Rudd in 2010 the annual aid budget, in the forward estimates, was zooming towards $8 billion this year, with $10 billion not too far over the horizon. Today, the ‘new aid paradigm’ caps the spend at $5 billion for two financial years; after that growth will be at Australia’s inflation rate.

It ain’t small change but Oz is no longer bulking up to be an aid superpower. Gillard started to throttle back the trajectory and choke the golden consensus. Abbott completed the job. Some of the surviving aidies now refer to WasAID.

The biggest change in decades in the key institutions of Australian diplomacy prompts this first in a series of columns on DFAT. To look forward, glance back to the last revolution, the merger of the Foreign Affairs Department and Trade Department in July 1987. The differences between the ’87 merger and the ’13 integration are instructive.

When Foreign and Trade joined it was as equals, in contrast to the way AusAID was subsumed. Large parts of Trade stayed intact. Plus, Trade kept its Cabinet minister. The marriage of equals meant the old arguments continued and the warring world-views remained, but in a newly intimate setting.

The merger took the previous wars between two distinctly different departments behind one set of walls. Canberra lost sight of the entertainment provided by Trade kicking Foreign. And there was less of the old sport of the tradies wrestling Resources or subverting Treasury.

The blunt-talking tradies with a set of core goods-and-services skills joined the generalist pinstripes who do internationalism in the voice of pragmatic realism. The swearing got more colourful, perhaps more agricultural, reflecting the tradies’ Country Party heritage.

The ’87 merger was a key moment when the lawyers and politics/arts graduates of the pinstripe mainstream had to make room for a lot of economists. The econocrats made huge gains across all of Canberra in the last decades of the 20th century and Foreign was one citadel that fell quickly. These days, many Australian ambassadors spend two-thirds of their time working in the Trade and Investment space.

The ’13 integration is different. The aidies caricature is new age and NGO, with a different set of economic skills and world view. The aidies were always part of the Foreign family; now they have to move back into the family home and give up independent ways.

The staff devastation of the past year has been stark. The AusAID integration meant cutting numbers by 11–12%, casting out 500 people from the new DFAT. Some parts of AusAID were small enough to be quickly absorbed, diluted and sprinkled around DFAT. Other aid areas—Indonesia, Papua New Guinea—were too big and had too much weight and money for such treatment.

The project knowledge and the specific country-expertise AusAID brings should add heft and broaden the DFAT view. How much of that translates into core policy is the big cultural question. Based light years away from the Parliamentary triangle, across the lake in Civic, AusAID had evolved into an interesting and diverse institution. The aidies ran a sophisticated, rich NGO, with a colourful culture that still managed to be puritan about money and contracts. The higher values were multilateral, humanist and liberal.

Foreign Affairs comes from the old External Affairs Department. Aid, though, comes out of Territories—the colonial experience of running PNG. One heritage is private school, the other patrol officer.

The aidies think more deeply and constantly about the South Pacific than the pinstripes. Aidies who spend most of their career in the South Pacific are doing core business; a pinstripe concentrating on the Islands is making an unusual and limiting career choice.

For aidies who’ve survived, this does not feel like a marriage. Think being sold into service. It’s a fascinating service with broader career opportunities. But the aidies are going to have to think like pinstripes and swear like tradies.

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

ASPI suggests

In this week’s collection of reads and podcasts, we’ve got Islamic State and sovereignty, Indonesian politics, China’s South China Sea policies, Nigeria and Boko Haram, drones and more.

Does ISIS believe in sovereignty? Richard A. Nielsen writes on Monkey Cage blog that ISIS’ ideology puts the group at odds with norms of Westphalian sovereignty. Demolishing political borders between Syria and Iraq appears to be in keeping with their jihad on the concepts of international relations.

On the other hand, Audrey Kurth Cronin argues that ISIS behaves more like a ‘proto-state’ and, in policy terms, that means counterterrorism frameworks are ‘ill-suited’. (And for those with a Foreign Affairs subscription, Kurth Cronin’s essay, ‘ISIS is not a terrorist group’, expands on the important differences between organisations like al-Qaeda and ISIS.) Cronin’s assessment is a counterpoint to that of the Obama Administration: on Tuesday the President emphasised the ‘t’-word in refererring to ISIS during this week’s Summit on Countering Violent Extremism in Washington. Read more

While the Chan–Sukumaran news dominates in Australia, there have been other concerning developments in Indonesia such as the ongoing battle between the National Police and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Read Jacqueline Hicks on what the POLRI–KPK stoush reveals about how Jokowi is handling transactional politics and the parliament.

CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative has some striking before-and-after images of how China has been reclaiming and building on islands in the South China Sea. If you haven’t already, it’s worth subscribing to the AMTI Brief for updates.

But what do Chinese citizens think of the PRC’s policies in the East and South China Seas? UWA researcher Andrew Chubb’s new report (PDF) synthesises the results of a Chinese-language survey that explores how Chinese citizens receive information about territory troubles and how they think the PRC should behave. Interestingly, of the ten policy options presented, ‘international publicity’ received the most support, while ‘send in the troops’ was close to the bottom for both potential flashpoints. Keep reading here (or join us in Canberra for a panel discussion with Andrew Chubb, see Events below).

International Crisis Group has a useful Q&A on what the postponement of Nigeria’s general elections means for Africa and for the fight against Boko Haram. Meanwhile, Hilary Matfess looks at what’s next for Nigeria’s democracy.

Sticking with the African continent, have you ever heard of the ADF? The other ADF? an Islamist group in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Often overshadowed by Boko Haram, the Allied Democratic Forces was founded in Uganda 20 years ago. But a recent operation by the Congolese military made it possible for UN experts to interview fighters and analyse the organisation. In addition to implementing a form of sharia law, the ADF’s government ran, among other things, an internal security service and orphanage. For more, read Daniel Fahey’s overview here.

UAV enthusiasts, check out Robert Farley’s ‘The five most deadly drone powers in the world’ which features the capabilities of all the usual suspects but ends by asking which countries could potentially replace the ‘D5’.

Lastly, restrain yourselves, ladies, KJU has a new ‘do! Giving new meaning to a ‘high and tight’, one site wants to know, given the haircut’s obvious strength, should it be made a potential party to the six-party talks in its own right?


Over at Sinica, Kaiser Kuo and Jeremey Goldkorn interview Howard French to discuss the impact of Chinese development activities in Africa as well as the complications in China’s ‘win-win’ approach to investment in Africa (46mins).


Canberra: Next Tuesday 24 February, the Menzies Research Centre will holding the inaugural forum of the National Security Network at Parliament House at 5–6pm. This iteration grapples with options for the ANZUS alliance in light of changes to global power, featuring Michael L’Estrange and Ross Babbage. Stick around after for a networking event 6–7pm. Registration is essential and available here.

ASPI and the Perth USAsia Centre are jointly hosting a panel discussion on Chinese public opinion on maritime disputes and the implications of China’s actions for regional stability on Monday 2 March at 2pm. The event’s free and more details, including registration, are available here.

Calling nuclear wonks: ANU’s SDSC is hosting the US State Department’s Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, Rose Gottemoeller, who’ll deliver a lecture on ‘Stemming the nuclear tide: the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at 45’, on Thursday 5 March at 6pm. Registration is required and available here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist

Indonesia and Australia: considering the prisoner’s dilemma

Peter Jennings’ piece ‘Indonesia and Australia: prisoner’s dilemma’ points out the main options in the shorter term for the Australian government in considering possible negotiations with Jakarta over Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran’s urgent situation.

But since Indonesia is in a position to respond to any actions that Australia might take, it’s useful to consider what options are open to policymakers in Jakarta, presented in the following matrix (click to enlarge):

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If President Jokowi were looking for ways to offer an olive branch to Australia, looking at the right hand side of the diagram, he could offer to take steps to abolish the death penalty, improve visa access for Australians to Indonesia (which has recently been relaxed for some other countries, but not for Australia) and—importantly—speed up negotiations on the Australia–Indonesia Economic Partnership Agreement. He could also—and looking beyond the looming Chan–Sukumaran case—support ways to improve Indonesian–Australian consular cooperation for other Australians who often face difficulties in Indonesia.

What Prime Minister Abbott must bear in mind, however, is that Indonesia has options on the left hand side of the diagram (‘negative inducements’) as well. The most immediately worrying of these are the high-visibility ones. It would be easy for President Jokowi to drop some pointed criticisms of Australia into the Indonesian media. In the excitable space that exists for public displays of emotion in Jakarta these days (demonstrations about all sorts of issues are almost daily occurrences in Jakarta), it wouldn’t be surprising if flag-waving students gathered together to support Jokowi on this issue. After all, Indonesians can be just as nationalistic as Australians.

Just as worrying in the longer term are the low-visibility responses that it would be easy for Indonesian policymakers to turn to. At any time, Australia is keen to build cooperation with Indonesia in various ways that are in Australia’s interests. Discussions about the proposed Australia–Indonesian Economic Partnership Agreement (AIEPA) seem to have proceeded quite slowly during the past 12 months. Slow progress during 2014 was perhaps not surprising given that the term of the previous administration under Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was coming to an end. But it’s now important to resume negotiations over the AIEPA because Australia will not benefit if discussions are delayed. And almost every month, there are several high-level Australian teams of one kind or another (federal or state ministers, business groups, education teams, other professional groups, sporting and cultural organisations, media) looking for access in Jakarta. It would be easy for Indonesian policymakers to go slow on responding to Australian requests for meetings.

The prisoner’s dilemma matrix that Peter has presented is useful because it highlights the fact that at any time, Indonesia and Australia have many issues that need to be discussed. In choosing to up the ante in dealing with Indonesia over the difficult Chan–Sukumaran dilemma, Australian policymakers need to bear in mind that Jakarta’s got a few cards to play as well.

Peter McCawley is a visiting fellow with the Indonesian Project in the Crawford School, Australian National University. Image courtesy of Flickr user jmiller291.

LAND 400—equipping Australia’s Army

An Australian Light Armoured Vehicle (ASLAV), stands in the light of sunset.Defence Minister Kevin Andrews’ confirmation on Monday that tenders were finally about to open for LAND 400—a $10 billion project to replace Army’s thousand or so M113, ASLAV, and Bushmaster combat vehicles—sparked considerable interest from industry and Premiers but little from analysts. His announcement yesterday that Government has given the project first pass approval and released a request for tenders is likely to attract greater attention. The first tender will be to replace our ASLAVs, due for retirement around 2021. Specifications for their heavier and lighter counterparts are to be confirmed in the coming white paper.

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

Hugh White worries about the opportunity costs of such combat power. He’s also concerned the intended levels of protection, mobility and firepower seem designed for just the sort of major war in Asia that Army would be the least apt of the Services to fight; and that the project could deliver inappropriate kit for likely demands in our own neighbourhood. (Lighter, highly-deployable mobile forces might suit some nearby countries’ fragile infrastructure and low-threat environments.) Paul Dibb and Richard Brabin-Smith warn against LAND 400’s departure from the Defence of Australia (DoA) policy framework for disciplining priority-setting and spending. They caution it detracts from higher Army modernisation imperatives—particularly to operationalise true amphibiosity and consolidate Plan Beersheba for improving force generation and combined-arms effects via three similar multi-role combat brigades.

So how has such a high price-tag project—wags might call it LAND 10,000,000,000—managed to clank forward through that sniping, and a thicket of political minefields, without much public supporting fire? Sceptics will point to ministers’ reluctance to say no to an ADF with troops in harm’s way; a who’s-who of vested-interests (not least national, state and local leaders keen to make up for job losses in the car industry); and the Services’ disinclination to directly oppose each other’s most-prized projects. But deeper considerations are at work too.

An idea that the true (small-d) defence of Australia uses Army as ‘an instrument of national power’ to protect sovereignty and all the nation’s interests rather than just its continental landmass appears central to the case for high-end land power for offshore deployments. That seems both a fudge (what couldn’t be a task for Army under such an elastic conception?) and a statement of fact. Two of Chief of Army Lieutenant-General David Morrison’s favourite tropes help.

First, he argues that Army must be able to survive against peer competitors and potent irregular enemies alike. Although Navy and the RAAF also ‘get used’—witness the latter in Iraq—Army is ‘the essential service’ that most often delivers the main effect of joint operations—frequently outside the approved theatres of strategic theology. In doing so, its strategic tasks of shaping environments, countering threats and protecting populations translate into a spectrum of missions, ranging from non-combatant evacuations, to stabilisation-missions (RAMSI or East Timor-redux), proportionate contributions to Coalition operations, and even providing a basis for national mobilisation. That breadth of duties (and the impact of IED-armed insurgents in the Middle East) have spurred a drive for professional mastery measured against all-comers. And there, a force designed to go up against our most capable potential adversaries (or allies during exercises) will be better able to overmatch a sophisticated terrorist group with hi-tech weaponry or a rowdy mob jostling our deployed troops than one tailored just for lower-level contingencies.

For LAND 400, that means ‘the days of soldiers being transported in vehicles made of tin and canvas are long gone’. Platforms once known as ‘armoured personnel carriers’ won’t be contemporary ‘infantry fighting vehicles’ but ‘mounted combat reconnaissance capability’. That updated jargon signals that vehicles able to operate in complex, lethal, and networked future environments won’t be your grandpa’s battle-taxis.

Second, Morrison argues ‘we can’t benchmark ourselves against the Taliban’. Although that reinforces his peer–competitor axiom, our inability so far to prevail strategically, for all Army’s valour and sacrifice in Afghanistan, points to the Service’s unique combination of usefulness and limitation. At some point in every domain, quantity has a quality all its own, but the force-multipliers of a technological edge and skill at arms probably falter first against sheer numbers on land.

That LAND 400’s no longer described as a $19 billion project stems mainly from discussing acquisition rather than through-life costs. But it may also reflect some scaling-back of expectations in recognition that, while Army helped check the PLA in Korea over 60 years ago, its capacity to decisively influence a large Asian power is finite.

As we’ll have to wait for the white paper to see the scope of the M113-replacement, yesterday’s announcement doesn’t provide many clues whether there’s still further stretch in ‘DoA Plus Plus’. Few in Army would mourn DoA’s passing. But the impact on sound Army planning might be mixed.

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

Submarine construction: the Swedish view

Swedes have been designing, building and operating submarines for more than a century

With continuing uncertainty in Australia about the future direction of SEA 1000, it’s both interesting and refreshing to visit Sweden to see what’s happening regarding the development of the next generation of submarines. There’s a unanimous view from Swedish politicians, the Navy, the defence bureaucracy and industry that it would be complete madness to do anything other than design and build submarines in country. The contrast with Australia’s current confusion, misdirection and secrecy couldn’t be starker.

The Swedes take the view that only through an indigenous approach can they design and build submarines that genuinely meet the essential operational needs of the Navy. This view is consistent between the Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist; Lena Erixon, the head of FMV (the Swedish equivalent of DMO); Rear Admiral Anders Grensted, Deputy Commander Operations, Swedish Armed Forces; Gunilla Franzon, Saab’s Head of Security and Defence Solutions; and the Chairman of Saab, Marcus Wallenberg—as well as dozens of others. In a visit organized by Saab, along with three other Australian journalists, I received a great deal of information to the effect that no existing overseas design could meet Sweden’s unique operational needs, and that making changes to another country’s submarine would be both riskier and more expensive than the local build of a carefully tailored product. Read more

Mind you, Swedes have been designing, building and operating submarines for more than a century, which probably gives them a level of self-confidence that Australians sadly lack. Being a polite bunch of people, none of them were in any way critical of the situation regarding SEA 1000, but it was clear that they were all at the very least extremely puzzled by what appears to be going on. From their perspective, Australia has the necessary facilities and experience at ASC to build submarines, coupled with a modern industry base that includes a number of globally competitive companies, a generally positive labour environment, a professional Navy, and excellent access to US defence technology. From the Swedish perspective, building the next generation of RAN submarines at Osborne, South Australia, with an overseas design partner such as Saab, is the logical way to proceed.

That said, the recent history of submarine development in Sweden has been complex, with the national champion Kockums—also the designer of the Collins class and for a time a major shareholder in ASC—having been sold to German companies in 2000. Only one year ago, Kockums was returned to Swedish ownership, with Saab’s somewhat acrimonious buyback from ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems. The reasons for this are complex, but as Defence Minister Hultqvist confirmed to me, the decision was political rather than commercial. In essence, the Swedish political and military leadership decided more than one year ago that it was vital for the nation to have full control over its submarine technology—especially as Europe appears to be entering a new era of growing tensions due mainly to a resurgent and aggressive Russia.

With a limited budget—at the moment 1.1% of GDP, but likely to grow after April with cross-party approval—Sweden needs to carefully choose which technologies it’ll develop in house and which can be imported. The two highest priorities for local development are combat aircraft in the form of the Gripen multi-role fighter and submarines—the next of which will be the A26 series. These are seen as strategically essential indigenous projects.

The contract for the first two A26s is being negotiated between Saab and the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration, and is expected to be signed before the middle of this year. The A26 will be an advanced 1,500 tonne submarine, which should be delivered by 2021. The price is obviously a sensitive matter since it’s still under discussion, but they’d appear to cost no more than AUD$700 million each. Three more A26 class subs are expected to be ordered in the near future.

Sweden in general—and Saab in particular—is closely watching SEA 1000. Everyone from the Minister down emphasised that Sweden is looking for trusted international partners with whom it can cooperate for long-term submarine development activities.

Kym Bergmann is the editor of Asia Pacific Defence Reporter and Defence Review Asia. He has been visiting Sweden courtesy of Saab. Image courtesy of Flickr user N Stjerna.

Indonesia and Australia: prisoner’s dilemma

Prisoner's dilemma

Put aside for one moment your emotion over the looming execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. Anger and appeals to decency won’t save them. The only thing that might work is to think through the reality of negotiation between two parties with different needs. Jakarta has something Canberra wants—something we want rather badly because of a deeply-felt opposition to capital punishment. Indonesians, by contrast, want to stamp out the drugs killing their children. They prize the perceived deterrent value of executing convicted drug traffickers.

The temperature of Indonesia–Australia relations over recent years has ranged from mildly warm to downright frosty. With few connections to Australia, Indonesia’s President Widodo feels he owes us no particular favours. Unlike President Yudhoyono who had more liberal views on capital punishment, Jokowi campaigned on a strong anti-drug platform, including using the death penalty. After a fall in popular support he probably sees little value in making a concession to Australia that would force him to back down on an election promise. Read more

Here’s Australia’s dilemma: in a negotiation where one party (Canberra) desperately wants an certain outcome and the other party (Jakarta) has the key decisionmaking power but doesn’t see much value in making concessions, what can the weaker negotiator do to gain its desired outcome? The answer is that Australia needs to consider two factors. First, what positive or negative inducements can we offer to change Jokowi’s calculation of interests. And second, how should we pursue our strategy? Australia can use ‘high-visibility’ techniques, for example by making public statements and gestures, or take a ‘low-visibility’ approach, using back-channel diplomacy.

The table below sets out Australia’s options to secure clemency for Chan and Sukumaran (click to enlarge).


A strategy offering positive inducements to Widodo could offer high-profile and substantial increases in aid or defence cooperation in return for clemency. That’s unlikely to work. Widodo couldn’t be seen to make concessions on his principle of attacking the drug trade, or in publicly buckling to offers of incentives from abroad. Bribes work only when made privately. And Prime Minister Abbott can’t link rewards so openly to preventing what Australians regard as unethical behaviour. For the same reason most countries refuse to pay terrorists to release hostages.

A high-profile strategy involving negative inducements isn’t likely to work either. Australian threats of economic sanctions, or of withdrawing our ambassador and diplomatic staff, or making unfavourable comment about Indonesia in the international media would be deeply counterproductive in Indonesia. Ask how Australia would react if the situation was reversed and we were receiving strong and public negative Indonesian comments about our policies—as happened, for example, in 1999 during the East Timor crisis. Threats of negative Australian actions will only strengthen Indonesian resolve and lead to tit-for-tat responses. Australia has seldom achieved positive results by attacking behaviour we disliked. Our past punitive responses to French and Indian nuclear testing and to coups in Fiji and Thailand hurt us as much as the intended targets and completely failed to alter the behaviour we wanted to change.

What about our options for positive or negative inducements that happen in a ‘low-visibility’ way, without media coverage and using private communications? Negative inducements—for example cutting intelligence and defence cooperation—might be threatened if Indonesia carries out the executions. But while Jakarta privately values this cooperation the benefit doesn’t outweigh the short-term political cost to Widodo of being seen to compromise. And Australia would lose as much as Indonesia by cutting those ties. Neither side wins by ending mutually valuable cooperation.

So we come to Canberra’s last option: offering positive inducements to Jakarta in a non-public way aimed at securing clemency. What is it that Widodo would value enough to make him change his current course of action? Three possibilities come to mind. First we could offer active consular assistance to intercede with, and on behalf of, Indonesia in their diplomatic actions to stop their citizens being subjected to the death penalty around the world. Second, we could offer to deepen intelligence cooperation targeted against the threats that most worry Indonesia, such as returning foreign fighters from the Middle East. Third, we could offer active third-party advocacy to support Indonesian ambitions for greater influence in multilateral forums. Only Widodo could judge if such inducements meet an Indonesian cost–benefit analysis.

All of the above casts the human tragedy of Chan and Sukumaran into a literal version of game theory’s ‘prisoner’s dilemma’, an artefact of strategic and economic thinking used to analyse everything from the nuclear balance to companies competing for market share. The theory argues that—between distrustful parties—the short-term pursuit of individual interest will usually triumph over the longer-term benefits of cooperation. That’s the sad reality for both countries in dealing with the current tragic case. For Widodo almost nothing outweighs his domestic political priorities. In Canberra we could hardly claim to be any better. So the likely outcome is that short-term political calculations will win out over the longer-term benefits of cooperation.

The prisoner’s dilemma should be adopted as the bastard mascot of Australia–Indonesia relations. Almost every unhappy bilateral moment in our links since Indonesia’s independence in the 1950s can be explained in terms of the immediate triumph of short-term interests over a more rational assessment of our shared geographic destiny. There’ll never be solutions to Indonesia’s drug problem, or Australia’s illegal people movement problem, or our shared terrorism problem until both countries find the maturity to overcome the prisoner’s dilemma.

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