ASPI suggests: Australia Day edition
23 Jan 2015|

Breaking BadIt’s a long weekend with Aussies preparing to celebrate their national day, Australia Day, on Monday 26 January, so here’s our pick of articles, podcasts and events for your defence fix.

No doubt many readers have seen or plan to see the movie American Sniper that looks at the life of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle. Alex Horton looks at why the the Clint Eastwood film might be distorting civilians’ understanding of combat duty. As a supplement, he recommends the book Redeployment by Phil Klay and writing workshops like Words After War which brings civilians and vets together to dispel misconceptions of ‘heroism’. Also worth reading is Alex’s older piece on what the TV show Breaking Bad teaches us about ‘moral injury’ which he explains is a state of mind often experienced by veterans where one’s internalised moral code is turned on its head.

With the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Adbul Aziz on Friday, his half brother, the 79-year-old Crown Prince Salman, has now taken over the country’s leadership. But this still leaves questions open as to whether the next generation of princes will take over. The WaPo looks at the challenges of succession including a useful graphic showing the reigns of the Saudi monarchs, while Michael Herb writing for the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre wrote back in August about succession and Saudi Arabia’s stability.

Let’s turn now to Sri Lanka: while we don’t often focus on that Indo-Pacific state, Carnegie Endowment’s Frederic Grare writes the country’s upcoming presidential election has important implications not only for domestic policy, but foreign relations with China and India. He advocates for Western countries to strike while the iron is hot to ensure Sri Lanka’s commitment to combating corruption and fostering postwar reconciliation are kept on track.

Sticking with the region, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict has a new report out on support for Islamic State in Indonesian prisons. It’s an important issue given the high number of inmates convicted of terrorism offences in Indonesia, including the prominent figures from groups like JAT, and the risks of radicalisation while incarcerated.

To this day, Winston Churchill remains a controversial figure. For the history and strategy wonks, BBC Magazine has rounded up the ten greatest debates surrounding his legacy.

While the Cold War ended decades ago, this week marked the end of another era: Russia formally ended its cooperation with the US on reducing its nuclear stockpiles. While it was expected (Russia gave a heads up back in November), American officials still described the development as ‘dismaying’. Both sides will continue cooperation on securing industrial sources of nuclear material (to prevent ‘dirty bombs’) and inspections on each other’s active nuclear arsenals as part of arms control treaties. For more on this issue, two nuclear scientists from Stanford University have an op-ed on why the US shouldn’t end nuclear security cooperation with Russia.

Also related to the Cold War, Andrew Metrick looks at one of its legacies: the decline of stealth. Metrick writes, ‘the threats to stealth technology are shifting, as well—at a rate that is exceeding the pace of stealth technology development’ but keep reading here to find out why stealth isn’t dead.

How does history influence Chinese thought and behaviour today? Michael D. Swaine has a piece reposted on The Diplomat that provides nuance to how schools of thought in China respond to ideas of international order and hegemony.

Ebola no longer dominates global headlines but its continues to ravage parts of Africa with 21 689 reported cases and 8 641 deaths (as of 18 January). What Africa really needs to fight Ebola and other emerging diseases isn’t just reactive emergency health teams and plastic suits, but sustained anti-corruption efforts that begin well before the onset of a disease, writes Princeton’s Laura Kahn. Keep reading here for her policy recommendations. Another sobering (non-security) fact about Ebola: it has wiped out one third of the great apes since the 1990s, with a mortality rate among gorillas of 95% and 77% for chimpanzees, compared to just 50% for humans.

Turning to capability matters, US defence acquisition is in desperate need of reform, writes Alex Ward over on War on the Rocks. Ward looks at why, despite the dream team of Ash Carter, Robert Work, Frank Kendall, John McCain, and Mac Thornberry, world events and the final term agendas of key figures like McCain will throw obstacles in their way.

Each year the University of Pennsylvania ranks the world’s think tanks in a variety of fields as part of the Global Go To Think Tank Index. This year, we’re pleased to announce ASPI ranked has been ranked 16th in Top Defense and National Security Think Tanks in the world and 27th in Top Foreign Policy and International Affairs Think Tanks. Other honourable mentions include for Mark Thomson’s The Cost of Defence and for social media. To see how the world’s wonks went, including strong performances from other Aussie outfits like the Lowy Institute, the Strategic Defence Studies Centre and the Australian Institute of International Affairs, check out the full report here.


The team at Loopcast interview Mia Bloom, author of Bombshell: women and terrorism, on the role of women and children in the Islamic State (44mins).


Canberra: ANU’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre are hosting a special book launch and workshop Power and International Relations: essays in honour of Coral Bell, edited by Des Ball and Sheryn Lee. The launch is Tuesday 3 February at 12.15pm, with the workshop commencing at 1pm, followed by a cocktail reception at the Hedley Bull Building. Details and registration here.

Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Peter Varghese, will be discussing Australia’s foreign policy challenges, hosted by the AIIA ACT at its Deakin offices on Wednesday 4 February at 6pm. Registration here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Flickr user jaroh.