ASPI suggests

The world

‘Asia’s premier defence summit’, the Shangri-La Dialogue, was held last weekend and was attended by defence ministers, government officials and think-tank representatives from across the region. Sam Sachdeva’s Newsroom report captured the highlights well. In his Interpreter piece, Michael Fullilove argued that while acting US defence secretary Patrick Shanahan’s performance was poor, it was his ‘plain-spoken, tough-minded and funny’ French counterpart, Florence Parly, who stole the show. ASPI’s Graeme Dobell shared his on-the-ground insights from what he calls the annual ‘speed dating’ event for defence ministers, in a series of Strategist pieces.

Bilahari Kausikan’s incisive opinion piece in the Straits Times is a must-read. He talks about the dilemmas of middle and rising powers, especially those (like Singapore) that have civilisational links with the Middle Kingdom and are caught in the rivalry between the US and China.

This week marked the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. There were some great pieces of analysis published across the board, including on The Strategist, which has all your bases covered. If you’re interested in reading further (and you should be), these New York Times articles (here, here and here) take you back in time and share an underlying message: ‘never forget’. Michael Auslin, writing in Foreign Policy, argues that the Chinese Communist Party’s attempts to whitewash history and curb dissent at all cost speaks of an insecure regime that’s doomed to failure. The ABC conducted an experiment on how Chinese youth react to a picture of the iconic ‘tank man’. The result? While some defended the Chinese government, most were unwilling to talk, even those who knew about it. Some students even ran away.

The level of press freedom in Australia has come in for a lot of scrutiny in the wake of federal police raids on News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst’s Canberra home and the ABC’s Sydney offices earlier this week. The raids were in relation to the leaking of documents that led to the publication of stories on plans to expand surveillance powers and possible crimes committed by Australian troops in Afghanistan.

There’s been a strong reaction to the story around the world. The BBC issued a statement saying the raid on the ABC was ‘deeply troubling’ and the New York Times ran an article that asks whether Australia is indeed the most secretive democracy in the world. Columbia Journalism Review noted that the raids didn’t invoke even more restrictive laws passed last year and that the public-interest defence that protects journalists in Australia is ‘loosely worded’. There are concerns that even if journalists aren’t jailed as a result of such publications (though that’s a real possibility), the raids will have a major chilling effect on the willingness of whistleblowers to come forward.

The ABC’s Barrie Cassidy argues that the situation presents a real and present danger to Australia’s press freedom and that the raids look more like a show put on to deter both potential whistleblowers and investigative journalists. In a statement, ABC chair Ita Buttrose said they were ‘clearly designed to intimidate’.

The episode has already sparked calls for legislation to protect journalists and their sources, the public’s right to know, and free speech more broadly.

Tech geek

Global thermonuclear war is ‘a strange game’. As the line from the 1983 movie War Games goes, ‘the only winning move is not to play’. But The Drive notes that the movie (one of tech geek’s favourites) also had a huge impact on US President Ronald Reagan’s thinking on cyber warfare and resulted in the first presidential directive on cybersecurity.

The US Air Force’s B-1B Lancer bomber (aka ‘the Bone’) is back in the news, and not for good reasons. There are serious structural problems associated with the jets’ ageing, accentuated by insufficient resources to sustain mission readiness. Fewer than 10 of 62 aircraft are available for operations.

And the next Ford-class aircraft carrier, USS John F. Kennedy, won’t be able to operate the F-35C until 2027, and even then some of its essential functions won’t work. Meanwhile, the US Navy may be arming its Arleigh Burke-class destroyers with anti-missile lasers as soon as 2021.

As the US performs simulated military strikes near Iran, there’s some interesting analysis on how US–Iran tensions may affect Israel in War on the Rocks. Staying in the Middle East, CNN broke the news that China is assisting Saudi Arabia to boost its ballistic-missile capabilities.

Finally, the general in charge of the US Air Force’s Space Command has made it clear that space is a warfighting domain and that any future conflicts with Russia and China will be partially fought in space.

This week in history

Seventy-five years ago this week, some 6,000 Allied ships left England as part of the biggest invasion fleet the world has seen. Along with hundreds of aircraft, they attacked France to liberate it from German occupation and open a second front against the Nazis that would ultimately lead to Germany’s defeat less than a year later.

It’s hard to imagine any endeavour on such a scale today, but the BBC has published an archive of the reports its journalists compiled on and around 6 June 1944 which goes some way to putting us in the shoes of those who were there. The Economist’s republished leader from 10 June 1944 is also worth reading if you want to see the first draft of history in a little more detail—it lauds Winston Churchill as the architect of the attempt to liberate Europe, though it recognises that the effort wouldn’t have been possible without American help and the bloody war waged by Russia on the Eastern Front.


History Hit has two special D-Day episodes, one on the stories of individual valour and heroism on the day and one on the ‘unexpected history’ of the event. [41:16] and [42:30]

On The Diplomat, Ankit Panda and Prashanth Parameswaran dissect the Shangri-La Dialogue and share their takeaways on great-power rivalry and the future of the Indo-Pacific. [34:35]


The latest episode of the ABC’s Four Corners is a must-watch. ‘Tremble and obey’ is an in-depth look at the Chinese government’s crushing of the democracy movement at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Check out Icemap, an interactive map of the last Eurasian ice age that shows sea levels, glacier coverage and changes in temperature over a period of about 20,000 years.


Canberra, 11 June, 6–7 pm, Australian Institute of International Affairs, ‘Multilateralism and Australian interests: where to next?’ Register here.

Sydney, 13 June, 6–7.30 pm, United States Studies Centre, ‘The future of the Australia–US alliance: report launch and panel discussion’. Tickets ($10) here.