ASPI suggests
7 Jan 2014|

President Obama

Welcome back from the break! We’ve kicked off this year’s blogging with Rod Lyon on the security landscape in Asia for 2014 and Peter Jennings on lessons from the 1987 white paper. But if you’ve already made your way through those, here are a few more interesting things to read:

First, Fred Kaplan on Slate takes onNew York Times’ editorial calling on President Obama to grant Edward Snowden ‘some form of clemency’. Distinguishing Snowden’s actions from those of Daniel Ellsberg who leaked a top-secret Pentagon study on the Vietnam War, he argues:

But Snowden did much more than [leak documents on the NSA’s domestic surveillance]. The documents that he gave the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman and the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald have, so far, furnished stories about the NSA’s interception of email traffic, mobile phone calls, and radio transmissions of Taliban fighters in Pakistan’s northwest territories; about an operation to gauge the loyalties of CIA recruits in Pakistan; about NSA email intercepts to assist intelligence assessments of what’s going on inside Iran; about NSA surveillance of cellphone calls “worldwide,” an effort that (in the Post’s words) “allows it to look for unknown associates of known intelligence targets by tracking people whose movements intersect.” In his first interview with the South China Morning Post, Snowden revealed that the NSA routinely hacks into hundreds of computers in China and Hong Kong.

These operations have nothing to do with domestic surveillance or even spying on allies. They are not illegal, improper, or (in the context of 21st-century international politics) immoral. Exposing such operations has nothing to do with “whistle-blowing.”

Read the rest here.

Second, Radio Australia has an interview (podcast and transcript) with Paul Dibb on the recently released cabinet documents from 1986 and 1987 that show that the Australian government was concerned about the potential for relations between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia to deteriorate over the Free Papua Movement. Here’s an excerpt:

It came to a bit of crisis in 79 when there was only about eight people cleared in Canberra to understand that we had some fairly firm information coming from a covert source in Jakarta that the Indonesian military under General Benny Murdani were getting fed up with this movement of the OPM, the Free Papua Movement, using the protection of being on the Papua New Guinea side of the border and then crossing and then occasionally killing and attacking Indonesian troops. And we took that in the late 70s very seriously. So through the 70s, right through to the late 80s, there were these issues and they were essentially to do with the border, the activities of the OPM, and seen from the perspective of the Indonesian side a situation where they found that this was starting to become intolerable. The 1987 White Paper, which you are aware of, the cabinet documents relating that in my recollection have attached to them the so called Dibb Report which I wrote for the then defence minister, Kim Beasley [sic], about the defence of Australia. There was a classified version of that report which dealt with certain credible contingencies, and there was a highly-classified annexe to that report that was never made public in which I warned the Australian government that if we ever faced a major Indonesian military attack across the border with Papua New Guinea we would have to make our minds up on the contingency of the day. But, and this is the essential point, my advice to the then defence minister Beasley [sic] was we could lose the entire Australian army of some 30,000 at the time in the top one tenth of the border between Vanimo and Green River. And we would have no chance of holding that militarily and that would then leave the Australian government of the day with one serious alternative; and that would be to escalate it to strikes of a more serious nature against Indonesian logistics and military centres.

Lastly, Carlyle Thayer has a Diplomat piece that examines how a number of Southeast Asian states are pursuing conventional submarines. On these developments, he notes:

Within the next five years to a decade, Southeast Asian waters, and the South China Sea in particular, will witness a marked rise in the deployment of conventional submarines by regional states. This will make the South China Sea even more congested.

The acquisition of submarine forces will add a fourth dimension to regional war-fighting capabilities – air, land, sea and sub-surface. Submarines will be able to engage in reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, mine laying, anti-ship warfare and long-range strikes.

There appears to have been very little discussion by naval chiefs among the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) about the implications of this development. At the most basic level, few of the ASEAN countries are equipped to assist one of their submarines in distress. Singapore and Malaysia, however, are the exceptions. In late 2008 Singapore launched the MV Swift Rescue, a submarine support vessel equipped with two Deep Search and Rescue vessels.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and acting executive editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of The White House.