ASPI suggests
29 Sep 2017|

The world

Saudi women can finally drive. However, on a day that should have been celebratory for feminists driving the campaign (pun intended), the government silenced their voices by demanding that they not  comment on or discuss the announcement. BBC Monitoring provides a good explainer on the rationale behind the driving ban. An insightful Q&A with Hala al-Dosari, a Saudi scholar based in the US, argues that the fight is far from over.

Autonomous communities in the Middle East and Europe fighting for independence referendums met stiff opposition from central governments this week. Iraqi Kurds, who voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence (92%), were subjected to harsh responses from Baghdad. All international flights to the Kurdish capital Erbil were cancelled in an attempt to pressure Kurdish authorities to void the result. From Brookings, here’s a comprehensive recent history of Kurdish political division and unity.

Meanwhile, in Spain, Catalonians preparing to hold their independence referendum on 1 October met resistance from Madrid, leading to the seizing of ballot papers, arrests, and threatening of electoral officials. Here’s a full breakdown of the facts, as well as a longer read with more context on the longstanding feud.

Two recent pieces discuss two separate responsibilities of the US president. First, it’s up to President Trump to authorise the declassification and release of more than 3,000 sub rosa documents related to JFK’s assassination. He can decline to do so if he deems them harmful to intelligence or security interests of the nation.

Second, and a lot more ominous, is that the president gets to decide whether the US enters into nuclear war. Should trusted generals have the power to restrain an unreliable president? This piece argues that the US has a ‘Dr Strangelove in reverse’ problem. The author unequivocally argues that the only person with a mandate to make that decision is the president.

Finally on the nuclear theme, this analysis meticulously spells out the horrifying consequences of an explosion of a single terrorist-deployed nuclear bomb on a major city.

White House advisers are apparently struggling to distinguish between the personal and the professional. Six advisers, including Jared Kushner, failed to disclose their use of personal email accounts to conduct official state business. Hillary Clinton—not a stranger to the issue—has added her two cents.

To Europe now, and you might like this review of six new books that highlight the many arguments for a new pan-European political project to help solve the many crises plaguing the region.

One of those crises—the rise of far-right populism—shows no sign of relenting, as discussed in two interesting analyses of support for Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). The first looks at how a sophisticated Twitter campaign of organised trolls weaponised internet culture to generate a ‘patriotic revolution’. The second focuses on party fractures and the state of German politics.

Transport for London’s decision not to renew Uber’s licence sparked furious debates about disruptive technologies and the challenges they pose to political institutions. This long read is a powerful account of the arguments and incidents leading up to the decision last week.

On the flip side, fashion retailer Burberry demonstrates how the private sector’s strategy to implement big data and artificial intelligence (AI) is boosting sales and customer satisfaction.

Tech geek of the week, by Malcolm Davis

This week was a big one for Australia in Space, with Adelaide hosting the International Astronautical Congress, the world’s premier annual space policy and astronautics conference. Delegates enjoyed five days of back-to-back all things space, ranging from details on the exploration of Mars and the Moon, through to hypersonics, solar sailing and even SETI (‘search for extra-terrestrial intelligence’).

The highlight of the conference was a presentation by SpaceX’s Elon Musk on plans for an interplanetary transportation system and how it will allow us to colonise Mars. Blue Origin, the principal competitor to SpaceX, previewed its New Glenn reusable rocket and promoted its goal of achieving millions of people living and working in space.

In other news, the US Defense Advanced Research Project Agency is funding tests of the UK’s SABRE hypersonic engine. SABRE stands for ‘synergetic air breathing rocket engine’ and is probably one of the most elegant solutions towards achieving flight beyond Mach 5 for air vehicles.

Getting back down to earth—or more accurately the sea—check out some amazing concepts for future submarines, from the Royal Navy no less. They are clearly mixing their Pimm’s with something amazing!


Matters of debate: sex robots—yes or no? Kate Devlin at Wired discusses possible questions and potentially sinister consequences for this controversial use of AI.

Blogs of War interviews the Australian Army’s Colonel Ian Langford. This fascinating discussion covers the use of Australia’s Special Operations Forces and how that might be changed by the evolving nature of the security and defence environment.


The Lowy Institute’s Media Award dinner hosted New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, who delivered a keynote speech addressing the ‘dying art of disagreement’.

This powerful report from the BBC tells the stories of the 15 people who lived on the 21st floor of Grenfell Tower. There’s a video and accompanying photo essay with commentary.

Here’s another video and captivating photo essay, this time from the Iraqi city of Raqqa, telling of the destruction left behind by Islamic State.

Talks at Google presents ‘Lipstick under my burkha’, a discussion with the director of a new Indian black comedy.


Canberra: Dr Clarke Jones will speak at ANU on the topic ‘Re-examining security based approaches to countering violent extremism’ on 3 October. More information here.

Canberra: ‘Arson, exclusion and exodus: what next for the Rohingya and Myanmar?’ is an event at ANU on 3 October. More information here.

Sydney: The United States Studies Centre will host a debate on 25 October investigating the link between the internet and politics, and the impact of American popular culture: does American democracy exist if no-one is there to like it, retweet it or turn it into a meme? Register here.