ASPI suggests

The world

This week pundits continued to pick apart President Donald Trump’s Asia trip. This piece from China File takes a look at the geopolitical manoeuvring of two great powers, now possibly on equal footing, vying for supremacy on the world stage. The Diplomat takes a closer look at the policy ramifications of the trip, assessing how Trump fared on his three main goals for the trip.

In May, Trump shared highly classified information about a covert Israeli mission with the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador in a conversation in the Oval Office. This fascinating piece delves into the details of both the mission and the intelligence that was leaked, and highlights that the incident could have implications beyond damaging US–Israeli relations and future intelligence-sharing.

Following the resignation of Robert Mugabe after 37 years in power, the Economist assesses whether Emmerson Mnangagwa will be accomplish the two things that could ease Zimbabwe’s economic and political turmoil: garnering overseas financial support and introducing legitimate democratic political reform.

The newest instalment of the New Statesman’s tour through Europe has Matthew Engel in Belgium. He describes a nation divided linguistically and culturally, and with ‘a certain pervasive eccentricity’. Engel clearly doesn’t have the same affection for Belgium as for Estonia, but it is nonetheless an interesting snapshot of the EU’s heartland.

The International Criminal Tribunal convicted Ratko Mladic of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life in prison. This critical piece analyses the tribunal’s omissions and what the verdict means for Serbia. An op-ed by Janine di Giovanni, a journalist who covered the Bosnian war, argues that the verdict, 22 years after the Srebrenica massacre, does little to inspire confidence in holding contemporary despots accountable for their actions.

Although the collapse of Chancellor Merkel’s political negotiations has bought her some time to reassess options, there’s no way to mask the clearly fragmented political situation in Germany and the stark divisions among coalition partners. Read Jacqueline Westermann’s insights on the possible outcomes here, and Der Spiegel’s commentary on the implications for German politics here. The New York Review of Books comprehensively analyses the social profiles of Germany’s resurgent right-wing populist movement, finding that a ‘strong presence of the educated upper middle class distinguishes German populism’ from other right-wing nationalist movements.

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad’s long read in the Guardian follows Iraqi soldiers in their quest to regain Mosul from Islamic State, but tells another story of the endless cycle of violence that has been created. Iraqi soldiers indiscriminately torture and kill suspected IS fighters, along with anyone else in the vicinity.

The recent Islamist violence in the Philippines has unnerved many in Southeast Asia and thrown a spotlight on other Muslim insurgencies in the region. Austin Bodetti’s piece examines the situation in southern Thailand and whether it could spark the kind of ISIS-style jihadism seen in Marawi.

New research from RAND this week explores the origins of Americas jihadists, and ASPI’s Lisa Sharland’s new co-authored paper explores the role of the mining sector in preventing and countering violent extremism in Africa. The CTC Sentinel’s latest paper discusses the rivalry between al-Shabaab and IS in Somalia.

Tech geek of the week

Robots and war are all in the headlines this week. Two videos you need to check out look at future robots relevant for military roles. The first two are real robots from Boston Dynamics, SpotMini and the much more imposing Atlas. (No robots were kicked in the making of these videos.)

There’s a much more disturbing vision of how AI might team with autonomous ‘slaughterbots’. It’s fictional … so far. Western liberal democracies have made determined efforts to ban lethal autonomous weapons, or LAWs. However, Russia is saying nyet to such a ban and is proceeding to develop robotic (so far, remotely controlled) armoured vehicles.

The Russians are beginning to roll out their upgraded Tu-160M2 Blackjack bomber, which will be the mainstay of their long-range aviation force for nuclear and conventional war until the PAK-DA comes along. This accompanies their MiG-41 ‘sixth-generation fighter’, which they claim will be able to fight in space, sometime in the 2020s.

And China is building its H-20 bomber, as well as a hypersonic wind tunnel to allow development of hypersonic weapons that could reach the west coast of the US from China in 14 minutes.

Going from the edge of space at Mach 20 to confrontation on the ground, you can watch video of the recent defection by a North Korean People’s Army soldier in the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom. It’s gripping viewing, given the potential for rapid escalation in these types of events. The soldier made it, though he was shot five or six times.


Blogs of War’s ‘Covert Contact’ podcast this week discusses modern terrorists’ use of technology with Levi West of Canberra’s Charles Sturt University.

On RN’s Between the Lines, Tom Switzer talks to Ross Burns, former Australian ambassador to Syria, about the Syrian civil war.

Prominent African-American author Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses social politics and current affairs in the US, including protests by NFL players and Colin Kaepernick (skip the two-minute promo at the beginning).

Videos and photos

RUSI’s director Dr Karen von Hippel hosts a conversation with General David Petraeus (retd) on current global security challenges facing the US and the UK (1 hr 30 mins).

‘The future of terrorism’ is the third episode of the five-part documentary series A different lens by Monash academics and industry leaders (10 mins).

The International Business Times has compiled the 100 most powerful photos of the Rohingya refugee crisis, and the BBC chronicles President Mugabe’s reign in images.


Canberra, 27 November, 1730, ANU: ‘Chinese power and the idea of a “responsible state” in a changing world order’. More information here.

Sydney, 28 November, 1300, Stanton Library: Hugh White will talk about his new Quarterly Essay, ‘Without America: Australia in the new Asia’. More information here.

Canberra, 29 November, 1230, ANU: ‘China and the United States as aid donors: past and future trajectories’. Register here.

Canberra, 29 November, 1730, ANU: ‘Legacies of partition, South Asia at seventy’. Register here.