ASPI suggests

The world

Today, the Olympic Winter Games kick off in Pyeongchang, South Korea. North Korea’s Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, along with Kim Jong-un’s sister, will attend. They’ll be the first DPRK officials to visit South Korea in years, increasing the rumours that talks will be held. However, it’s too soon to be entirely optimistic, argues Kim Sengupta.

Last month, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s controversial remarks about alleged African gang violence stirred some heat. This New York Times feature offers a more positive view of the wider Sudanese community in Melbourne, including some great photos capturing everyday life. The article gives an insight into how the minister’s comments affected the young men’s lives. Two other interesting pieces about migrants’ challenges: The Atlantic examines Israel’s hostility towards African migrants, and Al Jazeera reveals findings about systematic racism within Sweden’s police force.

This week marked Zirkeltag, the point at which the Berlin Wall has been down for as long as it had been up—10,316 days. Der Spiegel has before-and-after pictures, while The Economist looks at what’s next in the ‘post-post-wall era’.

Leaked documents from Brussels indicate that the EU wants the power to ‘suspend certain benefits’—such as access to the single market—if the UK doesn’t play by EU rules during the two-year post-Brexit transition period. This hardened EU negotiating position puts Brexiteers in a tricky spot, having promised economic growth as a feature of a post-Brexit Britain. The Irish Times injected some acerbic optimism, arguing that Brexit’s saving grace is that it’s nowhere near as mad as the Hundred Years’ War.

Two compelling investigative journalism pieces came out this week. Reuters published its investigation into the execution of 10 Rohingyas by villagers and soldiers in Myanmar in September 2017—allegedly the first time that soldiers have been implicated with photographic evidence. During the investigation, two Reuters reporters were arrested. And the BBC tells the stories of the women and girls forced by Boko Haram to become suicide bombers in an innovative graphic novel.

As the US retreats from the international world order, we’re seeing the rise of two other ‘great powers’—China and Russia. This piece from Foreign Affairs analyses shifting US national security priorities while evaluating the viability of Xi Jinping’s and Vladimir Putin’s growing ambitions.

Should Watergate continue to be the yardstick against which political scandals are measured? Politico has compiled a list of 46 scandals that meet the ‘worse than Watergate’ benchmark. Somewhat relatedly, the New York Review of Books discusses the bloody legacies of three authoritarian dictators: Hitler, Stalin and Mao.

Some fresh research from George Washington University’s Program on Extremism chronicles the paths of 64 American jihadists in Iraq and Syria. Almost half of them are still alive and remain a potential threat. Canada’s intelligence agency has released some key findings from its study of 100 individuals who ‘radicalised to violence’. The takeaways include the fact that 80% of those who mobilise do so as part of a group. Also, 20% of mobilisers were female and ‘women and girls almost never acted alone’.

Tech geek

This week saw the successful launch of SpaceX’s ‘Falcon Heavy’ booster. Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket on Earth, able to lift 64 tons of payload to low Earth orbit. It carried Elon Musk’s personal Tesla roadster—with a space-suited ‘starman’ at the wheel—into a trajectory towards Mars. The defence and national security implications of Falcon Heavy are significant. The US, for the first time since the 1970s, now has a Saturn V–class booster that can loft large satellites into geostationary orbit. This opens up interesting possibilities for large military satellites that were previously too big to launch because there wasn’t a suitable launch vehicle. Or a lot of smaller satellites could be deployed in one launch.

China looks set to integrate AI into nuclear submarines in an effort to make its submarine force more effective. Meanwhile, on the surface, the US Navy has begun operational testing of the Sea Hunter anti-submarine unmanned vessel. Robot sub hunter versus AI subs is unlikely to remain science fiction for much longer.

The US Air Force is looking to upgrade the F-22 Raptor to keep it competitive through 2060. Enhancements will include new avionics, radar, sensors, weapons and AI. This is in the face of Russian and Chinese developments in fifth-generation fighters. Yet quantity has a quality of its own, and with only 187 Raptors in service, the F-35 will be heavily relied on at least until the late 2030s, when future systems may emerge.


BBC Newsnight reports on legislative weaknesses in internet regulation and the immunity provided to social media companies in the US through section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.


John Sipher, CIA National Clandestine Service veteran, talks to Michael Morrell about Russia’s active measures to influence US consciousness in the latest episode of Intelligence Matters.

For anyone who’s interested in insightful analysis on terrorism, Talking Terror from the University of East London’s Terrorism and Extremism Research Centre is a great resource.

The Global Politico’s Susan Glasser talks to conservative historian Walter Russell Mead about Donald Trump’s Jacksonianism.


Canberra, 12 February, 3–4.30 pm, Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU: ‘Aid for trade in Asia and the Pacific’. More information and registration here.

Canberra, 12 February, 6–7 pm, ANU SDSC War Studies Seminar Series: ‘Unwinnable wars: Afghanistan and the limits of Western military power’. Details here.

Melbourne, 13 February, 6–8.30 pm, LaTrobe University China Studies Research Centre: ‘Reflections on the Australia–China relationship’ with the Hon. Kevin Rudd. Info and tickets here.