ASPI suggests
5 Dec 2015|
A U.S. Army cultural support team member with the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force scans the terrain while sitting in a Humvee in Sarobi district, Kabul province, Afghanistan, Dec. 6, 2013. Team members traveled to multiple villages in order to speak with women and children about issues within their community and to address their medical needs. (DoD photo by Spc. Sara Wakai, U.S. Army/Released)

The late edition of ASPI Suggests kicks off with US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s announcement on Thursday that all combat roles were now open to women. The US military has 30 days to enact the decision with no exceptions. Secretary Carter overruled a last ditch effort by the US Marine Corps to exempt women from infantry and armour positions. According to The New York Times, it’s seen positively by some serving members:

‘I’m overjoyed,’ said Katelyn van Dam, an attack helicopter pilot in the Marine Corps who has deployed to Afghanistan. ‘Now if there is some little girl who wants to be a tanker, no one can tell her she can’t.’

Turning to our region, the US Studies Centre has released a report on Vietnam as part of its new series (PDF), Emerging US Security Partnerships in Southeast Asia. Authored by Bill Hayton, the report examines Vietnams relationships with both the US and China as well as its balancing strategies.

Australia security and business communities are often seen as out of touch with another when it comes to China. For better insight into the private sector, check out this new joint Australia China Relations Institute–National Australia Bank report that polled 580 Australia and 1,000 Chinese business leaders on their attitudes to bilateral trade, free trade agreements, focal points for investments and more. Fun fact: 94% of Chinese business leaders are favourable towards business with Oz, but only 54% of Australian businesses are favourable about business with China. Download the report here.

Also in the Indo-Pacific, Miha Hribernik has a new short East-West Center report on using the Japanese coast guard as a foreign policy tool. Hribernik gives a good overview of the coast guard’s role, size and budget and highlights its centrality to growing partnerships with Southeast Asian countries in light of more acute Sino-Japanese strategic tensions.

For those into intelligence, check out snippets of interviews with 12 former CIA directors including James Woolsey, David Petraeus and John Brennan as part a new documentary called The Spymasters: CIA in the crosshairs by Showtime. For more on the themes that emerged during the film, listen to this NPR interview with the makers, Chris Whipple and Jules Naudet, on how the directors responded to questions on so-called ‘black sites’ and ‘enhanced interrogation’ (36mins). The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti takes a closer look at the documentary here.

Two IR professors Stephen Biddle and Jacob Shapiro on Monkey Cage blog argue only containment of the organisation is possible; the ensuing chaos after tearing down an ISIS flag will not be in US interests, local allies have antithetical goals and taking the ISIS territory would require at least 100,000 troops. Keep reading here.

Also worth reading on ISIS is Clint Watts’ new piece on War On The Rocks that reworks Burce Hoffmans’ research positing a spectrum approach for analysing al-Qaeda affiliates. Watts applies it to a post-Charlie Hebdo ISIS.

Islamist groups are also an issue in areas like the Democratic Republic of Congo. In this week’s cartography selection, the Congo Research Group has produced a map of some parts of the DRC showing no less than 69 armed groups in the area, including the (unfortunately named) ADF (short for Allied Democratic Forces) allied with Al-Shabaab and the Lord’s Resistance Army. The map accompanies a short essay on the weaknesses of the Congolese state apparatuses, notably the Army, and a lack of synergy between the government and donor partners. Keep reading here.

This week’s technology pick is a new report by CSBA that argues that the US military is losing its edge in electromagnetic spectrum capabilities. Authors Bryan Clark and Mark Gunzinger point to a lack of sustained investment but argue the trend can be reversed by developing new operations concepts and technologies. Read more here.


For a different view on Afghanistan’s ground truth, listen to the ABC ClassicFM interview with war artist and filmmaker George Gittoes who was recently awarded the Sydney Peace Price. Gittoes currently resides in Jalalabad with his partner, and shares some fascinating insights on destruction vs creation, his movies about Afghan communities (including one in which he enlists a local ‘criminal mastermind’ aged 9 to act in one of his films), the security situation in the province and why the Taliban are they last hope of keeping out ISIS. Enjoy the music too!(43mins) Here’s a recent ABC video interview of Gittoes aka ‘Baba George’ with his young Afghan apprentices, one of whom escaped from ISIS. (7mins)


For a more scholarly look at the region, experts Ahmed Rashid and Barnett Rubin discuss the re-emergence of the Taliban and its rivalry with ISIS in both Afghanistan and Pakistan at a recent Carnegie Council event (1hr).