ASPI suggests

The world

China watchers everywhere have spent the week glued to their screens for the CCP’s 19th Party Congress. This Brookings Institution video explains why the Party Congress matters. The main event of the Party Congress was never in doubt; Xi Jinping was given another five-year term as the party’s general-secretary, re-empowering him to press on with his ambitious vision for China. But the new seven-man Politburo Standing Committee did hold a couple of surprises for pundits. As this piece from the China File points out, analysis of the closed world of the CCP is often built by layering information on unprovable assumptions, a tactic that has, at times, proven less than successful.

There’s a cracking read from the Daily Beast this week about an American code-breaker during the Korean War. Donald Nichols ran a small intelligence office inside the Pusan Perimeter and jealously guarded his ‘code-breaking fiefdom’ against any attempt to control it. Calling him ‘America’s Colonel Kurtz’, as the article does, might be a bit strong, but this is an intriguing story of an intriguing man.

In light of recent revelations about Russian state media outlets’ interference in the 2016 US election, Twitter announced it would ban Russia Today and Sputnik advertisements. In the interests of greater transparency, and noting the growing impact of political advertising online, Twitter will work towards labelling all political ads.

Speaking of transparency, President Trump has decided to withhold hundreds of J.F.K. assassination files, fuelling longstanding suspicions and conspiracies. There’s some worthwhile reading on the power of conspiracy theories here, but for real-time updates on the thousands of released files, check out the the Guardian’s feed.

The centenary of Russia’s October revolution is approaching, and here are three pieces worth reading. The latest issue of The Economist bestows the ambiguous title of the ‘post-modern tsar’ upon President Putin: on the one hand, his firm rule lifted ‘his country out of … the chaos in the 1990s’, but on the other, his authoritarianism (like that of his predecessors) undermines his power. Second, a very interesting piece from the Financial Times explains the diversity of opinions in Russia on the impact and meaning of the revolution. Finally, the New Statesman has an informative view of Russian history since 1917.

The New Statesman has also started a new series on European nations, kicking off with Estonia. Matthew Engel’s piece drips with affection for the Estonians, who refuse to be ‘lumped together as one of those indistinguishable, put-upon, who’s-invading-us-this-time Balts’. From high-tech capital Tallinn, ‘a Venice of the north’, to the fortified border at Narva, he paints a nuanced picture of a nation in Russia’s shadow.

This fascinating and devastating inside report by the New York Times tells the stories of 18 girls who were taken hostage by Boko Haram in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria. They were sent to detonate suicide bombs in crowded areas, but managed to escape.

Moving on to some recent research on terrorist recruitment and radicalisation: the New York Review of Books provides insightful fieldwork analysing radicalisation among various ethnic minority communities in Barcelona; a new paper from ICCT details the policy implications of Islamic State’s appeal to Western women; and George Washington University’s Program on Extremism released its latest study—a review of more than 850,000 English-language IS tweets.

Tech geek of the week

The pressure is building on North Korea after the US deployed three aircraft carrier battlegroups to the Pacific. The USS Nimitz joins the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the USS Ronald Reagan.

The US has also begun shipping hundreds of thousands of munitions into Guam, and has deployed a submarine capable of supporting US Navy SEALs. Also, check out this Jamestown report on Chinese PLA operations near North Korea.

In terms of land warfare, the US Army is about to unveil a new operational concept for high-intensity force-on-force battle against peer competitors, notably, Russia and China.

In shock news, Northrop Grumman dropped out of the MQ-25A Stingray unmanned airborne tanker competition, despite having the most advanced platform (the X-47B UCAS).

Finally, in space, the US Air Force is jumping on board with SpaceX’s ‘BFR’, signing a contract for engine development.


The ABC this week hosted Sophia, a robot with some of the most advanced AI and human facial simulations. Prepare to get the creeps.

Stratfor’s short ‘geographic primer’ explains Romania’s geographic challenge of remaining united while limiting the influence of more dominant neighbours.

How does a test aircraft manage to crash on its last scheduled flight after logging more than 550 previous successful missions? NASA released an excellent documentary on investigating the crash of its X-31.


On the Global Politico podcast this week, Susan Glasser interviews Pulitzer Prize–winning Soviet historian Anne Applebaum and Russian defector (and formerly Russia’s richest man) Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The episode’s title, ‘This myth about the great and horrible Putin’, really says it all.

The Diplomat’s Asia Geopolitics podcast sets the scene for President Trump’s first trip to Asia, discussing the likely issues in each stop on the visit.

Michele Flournoy, formerly US under-secretary of defence, was interviewed by Michael Morell for this week’s The Cipher Brief.


Sydney, 2 November at 1230: A colloquium on the political logic of the developmental state in East Asia. Details here.

Canberra, 2 November at 1830: CSIRO is hosting presentations from Mr Larry James and Dr Leslie Deutsch on the exploration of the solar system. Register here.

Canberra, 9 November at 1745: A lecture at ANU’s College of Law about climate change and international security. Register here.