ASPI suggests

The world

All eyes are on China in anticipation of the lustrum Communist Party of China (CPC) Congress. As the 19th Congress approaches, speculation is rife about Xi’s big plans: Will he name his successor? Will he follow the Politburo’s age-limit norms? As a primer for the CPC’s biggest show, have a look at ‘Xi Jinping’s moment’ from the Lowy Institute, which compares Xi to other CCP leaders, and check out The Diplomat’s four-part series (part 4 here) which tries ‘reading the tea leaves of Chinese politics’.

Two recent addresses from DFAT Secretary Frances Adamson are worth highlighting. First, in her Confucius Institute Annual Lecture at Adelaide University, Adamson noted the need to respect cultural differences between China and Australia, as well as touching on some prickly topics with considerable tact. In her address at ASPI last week, Adamson spoke about international law and Australia’s national interests, maritime disputes, nuclear weapons and the internet.

While you’re grappling with the grim possibility of a major war on the Korean peninsula, perhaps read this War on the Rocks analysis of the options for and implications of a US nuclear first strike (and a related discussion here). The Trump administration is clearly keeping all options—preventative and pre-emptive—on the table. If Trump were to order such an attack, here’s how it would be likely carried out.

Although it wasn’t entirely unexpected, the US’s formal withdrawal from UNESCO over the organisation’s ‘anti-Israel bias’ is indicative of President Trump’s commitment to his ‘America First’ policy. The Atlantic argues that POTUS can be considered the ‘dealbreaker’ rather than the ‘dealmaker’ following a stream of withdrawals from multilateral partnerships and agreements. Brookings analyses US–Iranian relations, highlighting that Trump’s erroneous obsession about nuclear decertification causes him to overlook various strategic opportunities to tackle Tehran’s other destabilising regional policies. Lowy offers a shorter piece on the implications of a potential US JCPOA decertification.

The Transnational Threats Project at CSIS has published a report on a fascinating multi-year study to understand the threats posed to global security by foreign fighters in the aftermath of conflict. And there’s some related new research from ICCT – The Hague on the survival of Islamic State as an insurgency movement.

After Catalonia’s and Kurdistan’s polls, the New York Review of Books provides a helpful short history of referendums and plebiscites.

Quartz offers an explanation for why only 17 women have been awarded a Nobel Prize in the sciences since 1901. Gender bias is both an institutional and cultural issue across many industries, particularly science and tech. The BBC 100 Women initiative names 100 influential women who are tackling four of the biggest problems facing women today: the glass ceiling, illiteracy, harassment and sexism.

Tech geek of the week, by Malcolm Davis

NBC reported earlier this week that President Trump said he wanted a substantial increase in the size of the US nuclear stockpile during a briefing on future US nuclear modernisation. The White House has vehemently denied that claim, arguing that Trump wants to modernise, rather than expand, the American arsenal. The story emerged as North Korea keeps open its threat to do an atmospheric test of a nuclear weapon delivered by a long-range missile—a ‘Juche Bird’.

The RAND Corporation updated its ‘Conflict with China’ analysis, suggesting that US (and allied) forces are more vulnerable and that direct defence of forward forces is becoming more costly. If that’s right, the US will need new ways of generating operational effects. Breakthrough technologies like hypersonics may mitigate the risk of Chinese area denial capabilities. Aerojet Rocketdyne is set to test a new ‘advanced full-range engine’ that, if successful, could power hypersonic platforms and weapons. The Chinese also have an advanced hypersonics program, which might allow them to circumvent ballistic-missile defence systems and make adversary naval forces far more vulnerable. A hypersonics race is emerging that could shape defence capability development in coming years.

As Australia looks at options to replace the ‘Aussie Tiger’ armed reconnaissance helicopter, it needs to pay attention to US developments in its Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program. Bell’s V-280 tilt-rotor platform is set to fly for the first time, and an unmanned multirole V-247 Vigilant tilt-rotor drone is under development.


Wednesday 11 October was International Day of the Girl. Al Jazeera’s interactive and informative presentation on the heavy topic of female genital mutilation hits home hard.

After the German elections, experts discussed rising nationalism in Germany and Eastern Europe, and a return to putting up walls and fences again on the continent.


Foreign Policy’s Editor’s Roundtable podcast this week, ‘Europe slams its gates (part two)’, hosted Sasha Polakow-Suransky, who talks about the political ramifications of African immigration to Europe, the rise of the far-right and the normalisation of anti-immigrant policy.

The Global Politico podcast held an interview with Mohammed Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, to discuss President Trump’s UN address, the Iran nuclear deal, and Iran’s influence in the Middle East.


Canberra, 16 October: ‘Information warfare in the 21st century: media jihad, new cold wars and fake news’. The ANU Coral Bell School hosts a range of international and Australian experts for this one-day conference. Register here.

Canberra, 17 October @12.30: ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific discusses new directions for asylum seeker policies. More details here.

Sydney, 27 October 2017 @12.45: Lowy Lecture Series discusses the future of China–US relations with Joseph Kahn. Reserve seats here.