ASPI suggests

The world

It’s summit season in Southeast Asia. This week all the big names of the Asia–Pacific descended on Vietnam and the Philippines for the 31st ASEAN Summit and related meetings (such as APEC and the East Asia Summit). The New York Times thinks that, despite Trump’s rhetoric, Japan is showing signs of nerves about America’s commitment to the region—which probably wasn’t helped by Donald Trump slipping out of summits early. The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda trumpets the return of the Australia–India–Japan–US quadrilateral after 10 years in the wilderness, and Grant Wyeth gives an Australian take on ‘the Quad’.

There are concerns about President Trump’s potential willingness to consider first use of nuclear weapons in a preventive war against North Korea. The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on nuclear command and control this week. A key takeaway was that the US military can refuse orders from the president if they’re deemed illegal because they don’t meet the conditions of ‘military necessity, discrimination and proportionality’, but what happens then remains murky.

With the army having taken control in Zimbabwe, The Economist takes a look at President Robert Mugabe’s long career and lessons learnt from nearly four decades of poor policymaking and rampant corruption that have left Zimbabwe far worse off than when he assumed office.

Saad al-Hariri’s mystery resignation as Lebanon’s prime minister is still unresolved. Looking at the big picture, Lebanon remains caught in the crosshairs of Saudi–Iranian tensions. Carnegie explores Ashraf Rifi’s bid to replace al-Hariri, which would likely ignite sectarian tensions as he hardens his pro-Sunni rhetoric, toeing the Saudi line. Whether or not Saudi Arabia has the ability to strategically exert influence in Lebanon to push back against Iranian proxies (namely, Hezbollah) is discussed in this excellent analysis from Stratfor.

Two fascinating investigative pieces this week: ‘Raqqa’s dirty secret’ from the BBC exposes a deal that let hundreds of Islamic State fighters and their families escape while the coalition of US, British and Kurdish forces took control of the city. And ‘The uncounted’ from the New York Times assesses the coalition’s precision when conducting air strikes against IS targets and its reporting of alleged civilian casualties. The piece recounts the story of one man whose family was killed by coalition air strikes, and who—like thousands of others—wasn’t documented in the reports. In addition, this brave interview with Lynsey Addario explores the question of why there are still so few female war photographers.

Some compelling new research on violent extremism and terrorism was published this week. First up, ICCT released a new paper on the scope and scale of Uighur foreign fighters, a cohort of jihadists that is relatively understudied despite their links to the Taliban and other Islamist factions in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Second, Hassan Hassan’s careful analysis helps contextualise what ‘IS 2.0’ looks like, and how governments should prepare for the group’s persistence as an insurgency, and Charlie Winter’s expert commentary on IS media-ops confirms that the problem of IS hasn’t gone away, but it’s just changed. Third, two pieces on the links between far right and Islamist extremism: Scott Atran and Julia Ebner separately discuss the appeal of countercultures, a ‘vitriol against globalists’ and parallel messaging strategies, as some of the connecting factors.

This pretty cool experiment enabled researchers to build a database from 4,000-year-old clay tablets, plugged it into an economic trade model, and used it to pinpoint the potential locations of 11 lost Bronze Age cities.

Tech geek of the week

Want to get a look inside China’s ‘war room’? The WarZone has an interesting article on China’s ‘Joint Battle Command Centre’ where Xi Jinping would run any future war from, including great imagery that a few years back would have been highly classified.

Testing of the next thing in tilt rotor technology is underway, with Bell’s V-280 Valor almost ready for its first flight. Part of the US Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program, the Valor offers aircraft-like speeds with the flexibility of the helicopter. Boeing and Sikorsky are also competing for FVL, including with a future FVL-Attack platform that could replace the Apache attack helicopter.

Finally, autonomous battlefield robots are definitely coming. Efforts to ban them are so far ineffective, the technology is racing ahead, and there are no guarantees that our adversaries will agree to ban them.

Videos and photo essay

The Economist discusses policy and legislative challenges facing European governments and the prospect of returning foreign fighters.

{Warning: The following report contains distressing scenes, including explicit descriptions of sexual violence.} This BBC Newsnight report investigates the story of the massacre of the Rohinga in the village of Tula Toli. It’s distressing but important journalism.

The New York Times has published a photo essay this week commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad.

For something different, this incredible time-lapse of Manhattan, filmed over 352 hours, shows the city in its time cycles.


On ‘Between the Lines’ this week, Tom Switzer talks with British journalist Peter Oborne about the unfolding situation in Zimbabwe. He also discusses populism with Gyorgy Schopflin, a member of the European Parliament from Hungary’s ruling party.

The New York Times brought Stephen Bannon ‘behind enemy lines’ for an interview this week. For an abridged version, check out ‘The Daily’ podcast; for the whole hog, go to ‘The New Washington’.


Canberra, 20 November at 1130: Dr Karel Čada presents on Burkinis, slippery slope and Euroscepticism. Register here.

Canberra, 20 November at 1700:  Ms Unni Kløvstad, the Norwegian ambassador to Australia, launches Professor Michael Wesley’s new book, Global allies: comparing US alliances in the 21st century. Register here.

Canberra, 5 December at 1800: Hugh White will be giving a lecture to launch his quarterly essay Australia in the new Asia: without America. Register here.