ASPI suggests

Welcome, dear readers, to the first ‘ASPI suggests’ of 2018.

The world

While Michael Wolff’s Fire and fury lit flames under the White House to start the new year, the cabinet files scandal and the Strava security breach clearly jolted Canberra out of its January summer lull. Elsewhere, military campaigns, dodgy legislation and upcoming elections have kept the international relations analysts on their toes.

Russia’s presidential elections are six weeks away, and last weekend was again marked by mass protests ‘against the lack of choice’ across the country. Vice’s Greg Walters tells you why Putin isn’t fazed by the protests, and Radio Free Europe explores the Kremlin’s belief that Alexey Navalny isn’t a threat. Further afield, Moscow is exploring new ground in Africa. Wagner, a Kremlin-backed private military firm, has made forays into Sudan and the Central African Republic, as this Stratfor piece shows.

And Russia doesn’t stop there. Leonid Issaev argues that it’s getting its hands dirty by participating in Turkey’s latest military campaign, Operation Olive Branch. ASPI’s Isaac Kfir explains why driving the campaign further into Syria has the potential to cause havoc beyond the region.

Israel and Poland’s usually cordial relations have soured over the past week after Poland’s Sejm passed a bill criminalising any mention of Polish concentration or extermination camps, thus abrogating Polish culpability for Nazi-era crimes. This Washington Post article presents various critical voices on the legislation and explains the potential consequences if it’s signed by the Polish president.

For the linguists: an interesting piece from The Economist explores the decline of Egyptian Arabic— once the most widespread dialect in the Arab world—amid Egypt’s waning regional influence.

The unlikely and astonishing rise to power of Henry Kissinger, former secretary of state and national security adviser, is told by biographer Niall Ferguson in this Politico Magazine piece. Ferguson argues that the wily diplomat and academic’s greatest talent was strategic networking: ‘He had learned that … informal networks could provide diplomatic channels superior to foreign ministries and embassies.’

‘Big Brother is watching you.’ But could the bleak Orwellian maxim predicting our age of surveillance and the death of privacy have a positive side? National Geographic explores the measurable social, economic and environmental gains of surveillance networks and evaluates what privacy really means to us and how much we value it.

Drone warfare is a controversial practice. The Guardian spoke to military drone analysts in Kansas about their work and produced a piece that comprehensively analyses various aspects of drone warfare, from technology and training to accountability and ethics. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera documents innovative commercial and humanitarian uses of drones.

The Atlantic Council has published some interesting new research on the Asian energy transition. The paper explores Asia as a rising power in the field of renewable energy, and notes that many governments in the region are already developing and implementing clean energy policies. The International Center for Research on Women has published a similarly encouraging report card, assessing Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ progress on the UN’s feminist agenda one year in. Although the C+ score may seem low, the analysis is positive overall.

Tech geek

The Trump administration’s 2018 National Defense Strategy prioritises Russia and China as key threats to US interests. With that in mind, China looks set to outpace the Americans in electromagnetic railgun development for its naval vessels. If the Chinese are successful, the US may accelerate its own efforts, which so far have struggled.

A pre-decisional draft of the forthcoming US Nuclear Posture Review confirms that Russia is developing its ‘Status-6’ long-range nuclear-armed unmanned underwater vehicle as a ‘third-strike weapon’, equipped with a cobalt-jacketed 100-megaton nuclear warhead. It’s designed to detonate offshore and inundate large coastal areas with long-lasting lethal radioactivity.

Boeing has released its concept for a reusable hypersonic aircraft—a ‘son of SR-71 Blackbird’. It would travel at speeds faster than Mach 5, and would employ DARPA’s advanced full-range engine to allow one engine to power it from take-off to hypersonic speeds and back to landing.

Finally, the Kiwis did well with their 21 January test launch of the Electron small satellite launcher, operated by Rocket Lab, a US-based company with an extensive New Zealand footprint. The successful mission puts New Zealand in a prime position to compete in the small-satellite market globally.


The World Economic Forum has launched a new podcast series that dissects different elements of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’. The latest episode explores ways to regulate tech without stifling its benefits (30 mins).

Carnegie’s first 2018 DiploPod episode features an interview with Jeffrey Feltman, UN under-secretary for political affairs, in which he talks all things North Korea—ranging from opportunities on de-escalation to his impressions from discussions with officials in Pyongyang in December (15 mins).

The German Marshall Fund of the United States has a new podcast. The second episode of Out of Order focuses on how China has changed its position in the world since Donald Trump entered office and the role the current world order played in China’s rise (60 mins).


Melbourne, 6 February 2018, 12.30–1.30 pm, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute and Monash University: ‘Environmental governance in China’. Details here.

Sydney, 7 February, 1–2 pm, University of Sydney: ‘Diabetes, an emerging public health challenge in China’. Register here.

Canberra, 8 February, 1.30–7.30 pm, ANU Climate Update 2018. Agenda and registration here.