ASPI suggests
25 Aug 2017|

It’s been a busy week for editors googling pictures of Terminators (as in the Schwarzenegger variety). The main driver has been reportage on an open letter to the UN, signed by 116 tech industry leaders from around the globe, calling for a ban on lethal autonomous weapons (i.e. killer robots). The UN plans to debate autonomous weapons in a meeting this November.

The call for a ban on killer robots has faced plenty of criticism: a piece at Wired says that it ‘just isn’t practical’, as there’s just too much incentive for advanced militaries to continue developing them. A couple of Brookings Institution authors argue similarly that AI is becoming essential to keep up with the increasing speed of warfare. And drones are already emerging as an important component of the defence of Guam against North Korean missiles. A piece from RealClearDefense includes comments from the Atlantic Council’s August Cole, who encourages the international community to develop a ‘legal, moral and ethical framework’, but he notes that even that might be too much to expect agreement on.

Celebrity entrepreneur and AI doomsayer Elon Musk signed the open letter, but that could just be because he thinks ‘Skynet’ will gain control over all of them when the war for humanity’s survival begins. If you don’t know what Skynet is in this context, you can educate yourself by watching the 25th-anniversary cinema re-release of Terminator 2 in 4k 3D—or read this piece about some of the film’s scientific flaws.

US President Donald Trump has given his seal of approval on a new strategy in Afghanistan. The defence policy wonks are out in force. A piece by Kelly Magsamen, former US deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia–Pacific security, says Afghanistan is now Trump’s war, and she has additional questions. William F. Wechsler, former US deputy assistant secretary for special operations and combating terrorism, argues that the announcement should precede a period of constant US diplomatic interaction with officials in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. And a brief from the Council on Foreign Relations on the subject offers the grim evaluation that the US is resigned to a perpetual stalemate in Afghanistan.

For a little more variety, you might be interested to know that there are multiple new TV programs about the CIA’s past role in Latin America’s drug trade. There’s a great piece at The Strategy Bridge from Australian Army officer Mark Gilchrist about the inherent chaos of war. It’s difficult to describe succinctly, but I recommend you check it out. And you may be interested to read this Brookings piece about the coming of age of China’s sixth generation of leaders ahead of the next party congress. If military history is more your thing, you might enjoy this long read from the Smithsonian Magazine about Chuck Parsons’ clandestine work in the Philippines during World War II.

In terms of research content this week, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments has a new 80-page report on the United States’ 250 years of irregular war that should be of interest to any war historians out there. CSIS has a couple of new reports, too: one on Russia in the global arms market (that one’s high up on my personal to-read list), and one on European terrorism since 1970.

Lastly this week, let’s take a moment to envy our American friends who were able to observe the total solar eclipse on Monday. President Trump was caught looking at the eclipse without special glasses—a big no-no (American readers take note: those glasses can be recycled). Julian Assange defended the President on Twitter using some half-correct optical science, which just made the whole ordeal even more surreal.


War on the RocksBombshell podcast this week covers a variety of geopolitical goings-on, including in North Korea, Afghanistan, Venezuela and Charlottesville.

And from the team that brought you the Dead Prussian podcast comes War for Idiots. This week’s episode gives an in-depth discussion of the Clausewitzian concept of a military ‘centre of gravity’.


Australia’s ambassador to Russia, Peter Tesch, sat down for a 20-minute chat with the Australian Institute of International Affairs this week. He offers an Australian perspective on modern-day Russia, and discusses the economic opportunities and challenges for Australians in Russia.

A VICE news segment discusses North Korea with Clinton-era energy secretary Bill Richardson. Richardson reflects on some of the interactions he’s had with the North Koreans, and expresses optimism about the potential for a deal of some kind (4 mins).

Chatham House has put together a short informational video on the potential for cyber attacks against satellites and space assets (1 min).


Canberra: This Saturday is the ADFA/UNSW Canberra open day. There’ll be drill displays, a C-130 fly-by, small training drones and military working dogs.

Melbourne: The Lowy Institute is hosting an evening panel discussion on 29 August about some of the findings from the 2017 Lowy Institute poll. The event is being held at the wonderful National Gallery of Victoria, where you can also see an exhibition of works by legendary Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai.