ASPI suggests
6 Feb 2015|

President Obama aboard Air Force One, 2015.‘If al Qaeda were a corporation today, it would be roughly equivalent to Microsoft: A big name but an aging brand, one now strikingly out of touch with the 18–35-year-old demographic.’ Over at Foreign Affairs, Clint Watts looks at how aQ is no longer king of the hill.

This week’s strategy pick is Chester A. Crocker’s essay ‘The strategic dilemma of a world adrift’ which seeks ‘to better understand today’s disorderly mixture of turbulence and drift in relationships among the leading powers and key regional states, and to reflect on its implications for statecraft.’

Turning now to Ukraine, Carnegie Endowment’s Eugeme Rumer and Thomas Graham warn that, if the US arms the country (as it’s currently considering) it risks another Black Hawk Down. Meanwhile, Ukraine is looking for a few good women: policymakers are considering calling up female citizens aged between 20 and 50 to fight pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk. According to a spokesperson for the Ukrainian armed forces, at the end of 2014, around 100 women were recruited for army services as an emergency provision.

Winter is coming, write IISS’ Samuel Charap and Jeremy Shapiro on the looming Cold War and its consequences. The piece begins ominously with the line, ‘The Ukraine crisis poses vexing policy challenges for Washington.’

What educates a president about war? In answer to this question, The Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe delicately interlaces snippets of President Obama’s visit to a mortuary affairs unit in Afghanistan with an assessment of his decisions to commit troops. It’s an evocative read on the balancing act between private emotion and policy imperative facing each leader (h/t Dan Smock). Building on Jaffe’s observations, Peter Feaver over at Foreign Policy discusses casualty-sensitivity and casualty-phobia to draw his conclusions about Obama’s character and decisionmaking.

Myanmar watchers, NBR interviewed Gum San NSang, the president of the Kachin Alliance, representing the interests of the Kachin ethnic nationality. The interview covers what he believes the Tatmadaw should do to help; the role for external actors like ASEAN, the US and China; and the potential impact of the upcoming 2015 elections. Meanwhile, CSIS’ Phuong Nguyan writes that the Tatmadaw remains a wild card as Myanmar’s elections loom.

Military capability: the gift that keeps on giving. Defence Minister Kevin Andrews announced last week that Australia would be donating two recently-decommissioned Landing Craft Heavy ships, HMAS Tarakan and Brunei, to the Philippines. IHS Jane’s 360 has more on the significance of the donation for the Philippines navy, while Armando J. Heredia over at USNI analyses this boost in the context of a broader Filipino defence build-up, especially in surveillance capabilities.

One for the metadata peeps: the transcripts from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security public hearings on the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014, available here and here.

For the history buffs, the latest edition of the Sea Power Centre Australia’s newsletter Semaphore looks at the RAN’s role in connection with the ANZAC centenary and in other significant events, including the role of the submarine AE2 at Gallipoli.

Coral Bell’s life and legacy were celebrated this week with the opening of the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at the ANU. If you want to read more about her thoughts on the international system, download the book Power and International Relations: essays in honour of Coral Bell free from ANU Press here.

Lastly, for that special defence person in your life, consider gifting this t-shirt of a highly-stylised King Abdullah II of Jordan, who also once starred in an episode of Star Trek.

Late addition: CSIS has a new report on the impact of President Obama’s FY 2016 budget on the Department of Defense, which includes a chapter on the geopolitical risks of budget shortfalls and an outlook for US ground forces.


The Diplomat’s Shannon Tiezzi sat down with Carnegie Endowment’s Dr Milan Vaishnav to talk about all-the-things you need to know about Obama’s trip to India, including defence agreements, climate change and security issues (10mins).


Steve Coll, the author of Ghost Wars and New Yorker staff writer, joined his colleagues John Cassidy and Dorothy Wickenden to talk about trends in terrorism and the use of secret warrants for surveillance under the Patriot Act (17mins).

As part of the only (and apparently leading) podcast series on disarmament and non-proliferation, Aaron Stein and Jeffrey Lewis of Arms Control Wonk discuss when open sources goes wrong, delving into a North Korean paper that blew a Chinese missile training exercise out of proportion and a false report of an Iranian ICBM (31mins).


Canberra: author of Cyber Policy in China, Professor Greg Austin of the EastWest Institute (New York) will present on China’s diplomacy for the information age, hosted by AIIA ACT on Thursday 26 February at 6pm in Deakin. More info and registration here. (As a primer for the event, here’s a podcast of an expert panel discussion with Austin about China’s cyber policy at the Brookings Institution in December.)

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of The White House