ASPI suggests

The world

An attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities knocked out over 5% of the world’s daily crude oil production on Saturday. See Al Jazeera for the evidence put forward by Saudi Arabia accusing Iran of being behind the attack. Two Strategist articles are worth a read, one highlighting the infrastructure and equipment necessary to pull off such a precise attack, and the implications for Australia; the other explaining the need to adapt to this new form of warfare. Writing for the ABC, Ben Rich uses the Saudi experience to discuss how drones are levelling the playing field between military powers and more simply armed state and non-state actors. The Guardian explains how cheap and easy-to-acquire drones may have negated the need for fast jets and attack aircraft. This article by the Atlantic Council emphasises the importance of protecting critical infrastructure.

Immigration trouble is brewing ahead of the United Nations’ biggest annual diplomatic event next week—the UN General Assembly’s leaders’ week. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif have yet to receive their visas, which may keep them from participating. And two Cuban diplomats have been kicked out of the US for undertaking ‘influence operations’. The remaining Cubans will have their travel around New York further restricted. The US’s place as the host country of the UN has caused trouble in the past, despite the Headquarters Agreement which requires it to allow delegates to travel to the UN. In one famous example, the UN General Assembly relocated to Geneva for the 1988 session after President Ronald Reagan denied Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat a US visa.

We’ve been tracking Afghanistan closely here on ASPI Suggests due in part to the recent volatility of the relationship between the US and the Taliban as negotiations between them collapsed. The Interpreter published an article weighing up the options. This week the White House accused the Afghan government of being ‘incapable of being a partner’ and slashed US$160 million from US aid to the country. Defense One has published an article looking at the efficacy of aid in a country like Afghanistan. The US announcement came just ahead of next week’s Afghan presidential election. See here for a good explainer of the main candidates and an overview of how the election will run.

Speaking of negotiations, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has apparently abided by an agreement on a moratorium on nuclear testing. If a deal to denuclearise the Korean peninsula can be achieved, the next challenge will be establishing a monitoring group for North Korea. The Carnegie Endowment puts forward an interesting proposal on what such a group would look like. The way forward, according to 38 North, lies with convincing Kim that North Korea’s economic future will be secure if it gives up its WMDs. Speaking of which, did you know the US tested 1,032 nuclear weapons on its own soil between 1945 and 1992?

For some extra reads, see Foreign Policy for the latest on Europe’s arms sales and the need to stem its exports to reduce the impact on conflicts around the globe, and Foreign Affairs for a dive into how Taiwan’s defence strategy makes more political sense than military sense.

Tech geek

It’s an airpower theme this week. With combat-readiness low for the US Air Force’s B-1 Lancer bombers, and growing concern about looming shortfalls in capability, how to meet the requirements of the USAF bomber roadmap is a growing issue. USAF General Timothy Ray gave an interesting talk about the future role of bombers in which he suggested growth of the bomber force is essential and pushed for an overall bomber force of more than 225 aircraft (currently it’s 156).

Defence Connect suggests that constraints on America’s ability to meet such a target may open up an opportunity for allies to support the B-21 Raider project. For Australia, that could mean restoring the long-range strike capability lost with the retirement of the F-111C in 2010.

Raytheon has introduced a new medium-range air-to-air missile called the Peregrine that could double the magazine carried in the internal weapons bay of the RAAF’s F-35A to eight missiles. That could then be expanded to 12 weapons if Lockheed Martin’s proposed ‘Sidekick’ were to also be incorporated.

The Warzone has released a fantastic primer on unmanned combat aerial vehicles and why the US has been slow to embrace them. And speaking of drones, Boeing’s MQ-25 Stingray carrier-based tanker UAV has just flown for the first time.

The US’s ‘next generation air dominance’ program to develop a successor to the F-35 and F-22 jets may be a new ‘Century Series’ that develops and produces a new aircraft in five years or less.

And finally, the US Government Accounting Office has released a really useful fact sheet on hypersonics.

This week in history

On 19 September 1893, New Zealand became the first self-governing country to give women the right to vote. The Conversation explores the 1893 Electoral Act and why it took 26 years before women could stand for parliament. Women’s suffrage in Australia wasn’t granted until 1902, though South Australia and Western Australia gave women the vote in 1894 and 1899.


The largest expedition to ever head to the frozen north is setting out on an effort to find out what a warming Arctic means for our environment. National Geographic’s photo story shows the team’s preparations and what they expect to find.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan sat down with Al Jazeera to discuss the situation in Kashmir and the possibility of conflict with India. [25:30]


The Council on Foreign Affairs interviewed former US officials to get their thoughts on what a nuclear conflict between America and Russia would look like. [25:31]

Discussing the recent attacks on the Saudi oil facilities, a whistleblower incident in the US, how to build a coalition to fight climate change, and more, is Pod Save the World. [1:13.21]


Canberra, 26 September, 4–5.30 pm, Australian National University: ‘China’s tech-enhanced authoritarianism’ with ASPI visiting fellow Samantha Hoffman. Register here.

Melbourne, 26 September, 5.30–7 pm, University of Melbourne: ‘Trump and the politics and ideology of American foreign policy’. Tickets here.