ASPI suggests

The world

This week found the war in Syria right back on the front page: this short Atlantic Council blog post discusses Donald Trump’s own red line on chemical weapons. With the president initially exclaiming that airstrikes could ‘be very soon or not so soon at all’, this timely journal article explores under what conditions states opt to use airpower as a coercive tool.

Research from German think tank SWP looks at the central role that controlling Syria’s airspace will play in determining the country’s future. Two Brookings fellows and a former US ambassador to Syria wrote in USA Today that withdrawing US troops could lead to the rise of ISIS 2.0. Evelyn Farkas provides trenchant policy advice for Trump in FP. And John Hopkins’ Majda Ruge penned a passionate op-ed on the international community’s failure in its responsibility to protect, drawing on her own experiences in Sarajevo in 1992.

The changing nature of warfare is a topic regularly featured on The Strategist. This week Robert H. Scales reminisces about his tenure as head of the US Army’s Army After Next project and offers lessons on how to avoid incorrectly forecasting the future of warfare. Edward Lucas shows how the Salisbury attack was an example of hybrid warfare. And Roman Shleynov briefly outlines the history of Novichok.

Claims that China plans to build a military base in Vanuatu brought strong denials from Beijing and generated plenty of debate. The BBC summarises how nations have responded to the story. It’s also worth recalling the CSIS research on Beijing’s base building in the South China Sea in 2017. And Joanne Wallis looks at China’s growing influence in the Pacific for The Strategist.

More on China, this Al-Jazeera feature examines the country’s global web of spies that makes possible its surveillance (and silencing) of dissidents abroad. Other authoritarian governments across Asia also try to control discourse online, especially on social media platforms.

Facebook was a hot topic in the US, where CEO Mark Zuckerberg was grilled by Congress on the platform’s data collection habits. The Economist analyses how he failed to reassure the public about Facebook’s privacy standards, and The Atlantic looks at the three big questions Zuckerberg hasn’t answered. And for amusement, read Inc.’s article on some of the weird and wacky questions that were asked.

A new Witness episode portrays the struggles of El Salvadorians deported from the US [25:00]. Many had previously fled El Salvador’s extreme gang violence. Facing uncertainty, the country’s growing call centre industry presents a chance for a future for these returnees. Sarah Esther Maslin highlights in The Economist’s 1843 magazine that the church offers an alternative to gangs like Barrio 18 and MS-13.

And for bookworms, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s new book, Fascism: a warning, hit the shelves on Tuesday. She looks at the rise of authoritarianism that’s threatening democracy around the world, and sounds a dire warning. NPR’s interview delivers the highlights in concise form.

Tech geek

Given a potentially imminent risk of a direct military clash between the US and its allies against Russia in Syria, we start off with the big picture of US, French and British combat assets in theatre, courtesy of IISS.

Russian air defence capabilities in Syria include combat aircraft and the potent S-400 and S-300VM SAM systems. Add in the challenge posed by Russia’s potent electronic warfare capability. Here’s an interesting article on how US and allied forces might handle this threat if the worst happens.

Unless the US is prepared to risk striking Russian forces, strike options are limited. Justin Bronk at RUSI examines this conundrum, suggesting that any strikes are likely to be symbolic and ineffective. There’s also an excellent analysis at Stratfor on what options the US might consider.

Turning away from Syria, space advocates (including this one) are over the moon (pun intended) with a decision by Rolls Royce and Boeing to support Reaction Engines and its SABRE combined-cycle air-breathing rocket. This will enable single-stage or two-stage-to-orbit access to space with airline-style efficiencies, as well as hypersonic airliners.

China is developing air-launched ballistic missiles. This would represent a new type of long-range missile capability for China, for both nuclear and conventional missions. When matched with a new bomber—the H-20, now in development—the missiles will strengthen China’s ability to project precise and rapid firepower at long range.


Politico takes you to Italy and captures life in Gardone Val Trompia, the village producing 70% of the EU’s small firearms and supplying 40% of the global market.

This interactive New York Times feature portrays some of the young women that were among the Chibok girls that Boko Haram kidnapped four years ago.

Twenty years after the Good Friday Agreement, BBC Newsnight interviews former Taoiseach (head of the Irish government) Bertie Ahern. [10:24]


This Reckonings episode brings together a former neo-Nazi and a former jihadist. They talk about their experiences and what attracted them to violent ideology. [59:45—jump to 1:40]

The Modern War Institute podcast hosts researchers who interviewed Americans who had travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight against ISIS. [32:00]

We’ve found a new podcast, Long Distance Call, in which Indonesia-based Aussie journalist Eliza Harvey converses with her mother, ABC broadcaster Geraldine Doogue, about current affairs and other things. This week they talk about the journalism industry, John Le Carre and Hillary Clinton as the wrong candidate. [30:51]


Sydney, 16, 17 and 20 April, 5.30–7.30 pm, Power House Museum, ‘Rosi Braidotti: the human in the age of technology and climate change’ as part of the 2018 Thinking Out Loud Lectures program. Further info and tickets here.

Melbourne, 17 April, 6.30–7.30 pm, University of Melbourne, ‘Safeguarding planetary health, banning nuclear weapons and the first Nobel Peace Prize born in Australia’. Info and registration here.

Canberra, 18 April, 7–8 pm, ANU College of Law, ‘An Australian bill of rights’ with former president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs. Info here.