ASPI suggests

The world

A great paradox of Xi Jinping’s leadership emerged over the past week: while attempting to present China as a modern state with racing economic growth, his new constitutional reforms point towards a more inward looking, authoritarian model that preserves his leadership. Brookings and The Economist have two very informative pieces on the implications of this change.

In Africa, President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) clings to power, and downplays the repression and violence routinely administered at the hands of his regime. Here are six possibilities for the DRC’s future.

Meanwhile, the small nation of Djibouti is flexing its muscles as it becomes aware of its strategic importance to the big players in the world. A good piece from German weekly Der Spiegel earlier this month highlighted Chinese strategic interest in the country.

On Thursday, President Vladimir Putin gave his long-awaited state of  the nation address. While he focused on the upcoming elections and domestic challenges, international analysis fixated on Russian foreign policy and international interference. Foreign Affairs discusses Russian mercenaries in Syria, and  this piece in The Diplomat explores Russia’s international oil game with Saudi Arabia, China and India. The Economist features a briefing on Russian disinformation, while Anne Applebaum and BuzzFeed News argue that it’s not Russian bots undermining American and European democracy, but conspiracy theories based in the US. Make of that what you will.

Ahead of another major Brexit speech, Theresa May discussed the Northern Ireland border issue with Donald Tusk, president of the European Council. Aside from the trade and economic implications of a hard border, there are also significant political and national security concerns. Two ICSR reports are worth reading on this: the first warns that a hard Brexit would be a gift to organised crime and paramilitaries in Northern Ireland; the second explores the crime–terror nexus in Italy and Malta. A new RUSI report discusses five areas where Brexit will affect European security.

The threat of far-right extremism is increasing. The UK’s head of counterterrorism at the Metropolitan police revealed that the organisation had thwarted four right-wing extremist plots in 2017. This Twitter thread provides insightful analysis of the actions and recruitment by National Action, a proscribed far-right terrorist group. Defense One discusses the national security implications of not paying enough attention to the far right.

The New York Review of Books meticulously analyses a new book on Gibraltar and World War II, observing that for all its alleged impregnability, Gibraltar survived the war ‘for the simple reason that it was never seriously attacked’. Over in The Atlantic, read Henry C. Wolfe’s prescient account of German intentions well before World War II—taken from the 1937 issue!

An interview with the editor of Parameters, the US Army War College’s quarterly journal, discusses the best books on military strategy, including those by Clausewitz and Sun Tzu. Complementing the interview nicely, this Strategy Bridge podcast evaluates the influence of culture and politics on Clausewitz.

Tech geek

We have a decided focus on air power in this week’s tech geek. The US Air Force has decided to spend around US$10 billion over the next five years to accelerate its ‘next-generation air dominance’ capability, which will likely replace the F-22 and maybe the F-35 sooner than anticipated. This decision to move more quickly to the next-generation fighter is driven by growing concern over China’s rapid military modernisation.

China has produced radical new designs for future hypersonic aircraft that are said to solve some key aerodynamic challenges of hypersonic flight. With the Chinese already planning a next-generation bomber, any alleged breakthrough could transform future air combat. It could also disrupt US planning for its future bomber capability, which is based around the subsonic but stealthy B-21 Raider.

Former Australian Army General Jim Molan has been highly critical of the RAAF’s F-35 during Senate Estimates, noting that they may confront Russian-built Su-35S fighters (which China is buying and which Indonesia might buy). He argued that the Russian jets had a superior ceiling (maximum altitude) and that their ‘super cruise’ ability makes them faster than the F-35, though he ignored the F-35’s stealth advantage and likely superior situational awareness. Certainly, the motto ‘First look, first shot, first kill’ may win out on the day, but only if we can protect our vital information systems. It’s more complex than speed and altitude.


WION interviews Helen Clark, former New Zealand prime minister and former head of UNDP, for its Global Leadership Series. She talks about a variety of topics: the film made about her, the world’s power structure and glass ceilings, India’s role in the world, as well as global security challenges. Oh, and she has some comments on Bollywood. [28:47]

BBC Newsnight looks at Northern Ireland. It remains under the thumb of social conservatism and the power of religion, but in some parts of society minds are changing. [7:32]

Check out this photo series in The Atlantic for some amazing visuals from Tunisia’s Djebel Dahar region, where the local community has lived underground for centuries.


The Diplomat’s podcast Asia Geopolitics discusses the Philippines and China in the South China Sea. Recent developments, Rodrigo Duterte’s rebalancing of the Philippines between the US and China, China’s artificial islands, and UK interests in the region and in freedom of navigation are all touched upon. [25:48]

The Atlantic interviews Caitlin Flanagan about toxic masculinity and toxic femininity in the age of #metoo. [34:41]

The latest episode of The Dead Prussian discusses the veteran community and the effects that commemoration have on veterans, but also how important this practice is in helping shape a national understanding about war. [30:00]


Canberra, 7 March, 12.30–2.30 pm, ‘In conversation with the Honourable John Howard OM, AC’. Hosted by the National Museum of Australia in association with the UNSW Canberra Public Leadership Research Group and the Howard Library. Tickets here.

Canberra, 7 March, 4.30–6.00 pm, ANU Centre for European Studies, ‘Panel discussion: Understanding geographical indications’. Register here.

Brisbane, 8 March, 4–5.00 pm, UQ’s Centre for Policy Futures, ‘Global strategic trends’. More info here.