ASPI suggests

The world

Welcome to the last ‘ASPI suggests’ of 2017. Let’s kick things off with a look back at the year. The New York Times has published a list of its most-read stories of 2017 and it’s exhausting just to flick through. The topics include the Las Vegas gunman, Hurricane Irma, Harvey Weinstein, Charlottesville, Sean Spicer’s resignation and James Comey’s dismissal—and that’s just in the top 20.

President Donald Trump has redefined what it means to hold the highest office in the world: US policy appears now to be guided by Trump’s impulsive reactions rather than by a careful strategy curated by a team of advisers. This New York Times article gives a fantastic insight into Trump’s frantic mindset and considers whether he will ‘bend, and possibly break, the office to his will’.

The opioid crisis is one of the worst public health emergencies experienced by the US in the past decade. This essay from The New Yorker offers a compelling account of how healthcare issues are dividing America, particularly over the questions of whether healthcare should be viewed as a right or a privilege, and what the role of government should have in providing welfare.

The Harvey Weinstein scandal (published first by the New York Times and The New Yorker) sparked a revolution that has exposed harrowing experiences of sexual harassment and assault against women across industries ranging from media and the arts to politics and national security. Time magazine awarded its Person of the Year to ‘The silence breakers’—the women who came forward to hold powerful men accountable.

How does the army recruit? This piece explores the challenges faced by the US military to recruit in an era where only 29% of Americans aged 17 to 24 meet the requirements to enlist.

It’s been a terrible year for Venezuela and its president, Nicolas Maduro. Although Maduro looks set to run again in 2018, protests against his rule have torn the country apart, as this photo essay from The Atlantic shows. For those of us on the outside looking in at events in Venezuela, the Washington Post has these five insights to help us get the story straight.

Jumping to the other side of the Pacific, 2017 has been a bumper year for Chinese President Xi Jinping. China’s continued rise and Xi’s performance at the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party convinced the Economist (among others) that Xi is now the world’s most powerful man.

Olivier Roy traces the ‘Islamisation of radicalism’, explaining how rebellious individuals have ‘found in Islam the paradigm of their total revolt’. It’s a fascinating, well-argued piece for anyone who’s interested in understanding how the ideology of radical Islamist groups seduces recruits.

For the palaeontologists and geologists, National Geographic has a fascinating profile about pterosaurs and why they may have been the weirdest creatures with wings.

The Washington Post explains how the internet and social media have shortened our attention spans, and why it’s important to preserve the culture of reading books in the age of technology. On the other hand, this is probably the best thing we’ve seen all year and doesn’t require much attention at all: generate your very own national security haiku. Give it a go.

ASPI’s own Malcolm Davis and Andrew Davies give their expert opinions on the functionality of the imperial all-terrain armoured transport walkers and their First Order descendants from the Star Wars films. Needless to say that if the Rebellion had had ASPI in its corner, Hoth wouldn’t have been such a disaster!

Tech geek of the week

China’s military needs to recruit millennials who may identify more with street rap than with traditional patriotic themes. Last year the PLA produced its own rap video, called ‘Battle declaration’, to encourage young Chinese to join up (translations of lyrics here). Contrast that with a more traditional approach covering PLA Navy aircraft carrier trials on their first aircraft carrier, CV Liaoning.

The US Navy’s three Zumwalt-class land-attack destroyers are being transformed into surface warfare ships because defeating adversaries’ surface ships is a greater priority than shore bombardment. Also, their key weapon, the electromagnetic railgun that could fling projectiles hundreds of kilometres, doesn’t work.

US Navy ballistic-missile defence (BMD) capabilities may not be all they’re cracked up to be. A disturbing read notes that tests of the SM-3 BMD system are never done under realistic conditions. According to a former skipper, ‘Every time a ship gets prepared to do a SM-3 shot, quite literally, a team of rocket scientists comes on board and they groom the system’.

The same can be said for the land-based missile defence system in California and Alaska, where interceptors have been tested only under optimal conditions, and then hit their targets only 50% of the time.

We end the year with an F-22 Raptor engaging an A-4 Skyhawk in a dogfight over Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada. The producers of Top Gun: Maverick (Tom Cruise is back as an aging admiral, no doubt still feeling the need for speed) should take note that stealth aircraft can dogfight!


Michael Morrell’s Intelligence Matters series has been a corker. The latest episode talks to former deputy director of US Naval Intelligence Terry Roberts on the evolution of cybercrime and how to counter the threat.

The Economist podcast has an interview with Nadia Tolokonnikova, a member of Russian protest group Pussy Riot. It’s an interesting insight into the mind of a protester, but should probably be taken with a grain of salt.

After the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute published its recent report on military expenditure, the organisation’s director, Aude Fleurant, commented on the rise in annual arms sales and whether increased demand for weapons indicates that the world is less safe.


‘In your face: China’s all-seeing state’: John Sudworth reports for the BBC on China’s surveillance system that operates using AI technology. The amount of data that’s collected about each person is terrifying.

Ever fancied yourself a spy? Check out this amazing interactive interview simulation from the Australian Secret Intelligence Service to see whether you’ve got what it takes.

‘Slaughterbots’? This short film dramatises the potential use of intelligent drones.