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Missing in action: Persuasive counter-narratives and reasoned discourse

By Alexey Muraviev 31 March 2016 International Studies No Comments »

By: Anne-Marie Balbi

This publication first appeared in The Interpreter, Lowy Institute of International Policy on 17 March 2016.  

In light of recent terror attacks in Israel it is hard not to reflect upon the narrative that must be influencing them. The Israel-Palestinian conflict is understandably part of that discourse, but so is the role of ISIS propaganda. The widespread narrative that the group promotes is undoubtedly fuelling existing conflicts and polarisation in the region. This poses the question of how to deal with that narrative.

Counter-narratives — a notion currently often spoken about but with few providing actual substance — have become a vital part of the response that is now referred to as Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). These soft counter-terrorism approaches using counter-narratives, or counter-messaging, are being rolled out around the world. They have been adopted in a bid to curb the use of violent extremism, not least in the context of the ISIS propaganda that is centred around three key narratives of persecution, utopianism and brutality.

A recent UK report, tasked with investigating the effectiveness of counter-narratives, challenged their usefulness. This, however, should not discourage CVE approaches from future efforts, particularly since the whole concept of CVE is still in its early stages. It is important though to view counter-narratives as part of a larger project of reinstating and reiterating norms. Normative barriers, identified by counter-terrorism experts as the key factor that stops people harming others, or carrying out other acts of violence, even though they may hold grievances, have obviously eroded. This becomes evident in the recent highlighting of the role of social institutions such as schools and families in CVE.

However these institutions in and of themselves can only be expected to achieve so much. In liberal democracies they must be complemented by politicians who engage in reasoned discourse. A world where so many subscribe to the ideas of ISIS (which is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people) and Donald Trump (who encourages a scapegoating of particular ethnic and religious groups), begs the question: where did it all go wrong? Have Western liberal democracies failed to demonstrate they are the best political system available?

The success of a ‘self-made-billionaire’ such as Trump (who has built on inherited wealth) shows the role of the narrative should not be underestimated. In a world currently characterised by international unease and economic dislocation it becomes easy to play on people’s fears and discontent while undermining those social institutions that have been upholding the norms.

Let’s not forget that Trump’s success has been enabled by the polarisation that has increasingly characterised American politics in recent decades, and has been encouraged by Republican campaign strategists in particular. As a Swedish editor was recently quoted as saying, ‘even if Donald Trump is defeated in the election, his success should propel a self-critical discussion about the healthiness of our democracies.’ The first half of the 20th century is a reminder of the self-destructive tendencies that liberal democracies are capable of.In a recent visit to Australia, the British actor and comedian John Cleese, when asked about the US election, gave an answer in keeping with the politically incorrect style so celebrated by Trump. Cleese said: ‘Democracy basically depends on having a reasonably well-informed, reasonably intelligent electorate — and we don’t have one — so what next?’

It appears clear that, at a time when people are bombarded by ideas, information and disinformation —thanks to the information technologies and communication networks of a globalised world — those who yell loudest (not necessarily with substantial content) are the winners. The fact that politics and terrorism is becoming even more complex means liberal democracies can no longer just go about business as usual. After all, as Foucault — the father of discourse himself — stated, ‘discourse is not simply that which translates struggles or systems of domination, but is the thing for which and by which there is struggle, discourse is the power which is to be seized’.


Climate Change is a Real Security Concern

By Alexey Muraviev 22 October 2015 News No Comments »

Author: Gavin Briggs

Australia’s five prime ministers in five years is a contrast to the relatively stable leadership enjoyed over that same period by our two key security partners: the United States (US) and United Kingdom (UK). Notwithstanding their own domestic political issues, the US and UK have consistently tackled climate change as the serious security challenge it is posing to be.

The instalment of Australia’s latest prime minister could bode favourably to this nation becoming ready to consider a significant security response towards the long-term challenge of climate change.

Much can be learned from the US and UK approach. They have both acknowledged the significance of climate change on national security and incorporated mitigation and adaptation strategies into key policy documents.

This strategic security issue requires a substantial response from our political leaders, government agencies and institutions.

The soon-to-be released Defence White Paper is most likely to address the matter of climate change however it may fall short in comprehensively mapping future courses of action. At a minimum it will need to calculate the potential impact climate change will have on human security, our region, and importantly, the future role of the Australian Defence Force.

The 2009 and 2013 Defence White Papers dealt with the concept of climate change and acknowledged the effect it would have on the security of Australia and the region. In particular, the 2009 Defence White Paper spoke of climate change as a new security concern yet claimed “large-scale strategic consequences of climate change are not likely to be felt before 2030.”

While the strategic forecasting of that statement has well and truly been challenged by an array of credible scientific findings and assessments, it is a vast improvement on Australia’s Defence 2000: Our Future Force when climate change did not even rate a mention.

Climate change has moved from solely being considered an environmental issue. As it has since undergone ‘securitisation’, it is now placed at the centre of US national security and its policy settings. No longer is it consigned to some third-order security concern. The US lists it firmly alongside other first-order security concerns such as terrorism and preventing the spread of WMDs.

In February this year, President Obama released the US National Security Strategy – 2015 and said “Climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources like food and water.”
It is a similar position in the UK. When British Prime Minister David Cameron came to power in 2010, he released A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The National Security Strategy. Cameron was unequivocal when he stated: “Our security is vulnerable to the effects of climate change and its impact on food and water supply. So the concept of national security in 2010 is very different to what it was ten or twenty, let alone fifty or a hundred years ago.”

In June this year, the Centre for Policy Development released The Longest Conflict: Australia’s Climate Security Challenge. It provided a comprehensive assessment of the long-term security issues facing Australia. The report quoted US academic Dr Chris King, who said: “Western societies are poor at long-term security planning. We are not prepared for a Hundred Year War. And that is the scale and breadth of what climate change presents.”

That statement says much about our relative inability and incomprehension in coming to terms with what lies before us. The security challenges may be compounded by the fact that the strategic consequences of climate change could last well beyond 100 years.

In August, NASA claimed that the world will experience one metre sea-level rises over the next 100-200 years. This is concerning when more than 150 million people live and work within a height of one-metre to current sea levels.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “more than half of the world’s population lives within 60 kilometres of the sea”. They also note the incidence of weather-related natural disasters has trebled since the 1960s, with a trend towards more storms, surge tides, and flooding.

The consequences of climate change will have an adverse impact on national and regional security, and in particular, human security.
Australia needs to heed the actions of its two most important security partners and deal with climate change as a significant, contemporary security challenge. It needs to be elevated alongside the threat posed by the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the murderous actions of non-state terror groups.
While we may regularly change our leaders, climate change is here to stay.

India threat?

By Alexey Muraviev 11 April 2013 International Studies No Comments »

Author: Ian Hall

India is presently investing in a sustained program of military modernisation. Some $40bn was earmarked for defence in the budget for 2012–13, with a significant proportion to be spent on new weapons. This year, according to SIPRI, India became the world’s biggest arms importer, and its long ‘wish list’—including fourth-generation fighters, heavy-lift aircraft, attack helicopters and main battle tanks—suggests that it will remain in that position for years to come.

These numbers, however, tell only part of the story. Some of this modernisation program involves upgrades to defensive capabilities, but not all. The mix also includes three new aircraft carriers (a refurbished Russian ship should eventually be delivered in early 2013, with two indigenous carriers soon to follow), nuclear submarines (a leased Russian Akula-II class boat plus a new Indian one) and air-to-air refuelling tankers (six soon to be ordered), as well as those multi-role combat aircraft, transports, helicopters and tanks. Many of these are systems designed more for power projection within and beyond India’s immediate region as well as for territorial defence.

In scale and spend, India is matching parts of China’s longer-running and more expensive modernisation program. In others areas—aircraft carriers and air-to-air refuelling, for example—India is arguably acquiring superior capabilities. Yet while China’s military modernisation is generally considered a cause for cause alarm, India’s program is not. Why?

One recent study by George J. Gilboy and Eric Heginbotham, Chinese and Indian Strategic Behaviour, gives a simple answer: when it comes to India, we’re fooling ourselves. They argue that there is an ‘India Threat’ to the security of the Indo-Pacific region on a par with that posed by China.

They also assert that India has much more in common with China than most Western observers think, including; a strategic culture that emphasises ‘veiled Realpolitik’, for instance, a telling history of using force to settle disputes, and a ‘preference for offensive military doctrine’. India’s strategic behaviour, they think, ought to generate the kind of ‘alarm’ that China’s does. They urge Westerners not to be distracted by the blandishments of ‘democratic peace theory’ or windy rhetoric about shared values, and suggest instead that they acknowledge the very real threat India might pose to regional stability.

Understandably, this argument has had a mixed reception in New Delhi. The highly-respected scholar Swaran Singh asserted in a prominent review in The Hindu newspaper that the book might speak with an ‘American voice’, but in a ‘Chinese accent’. In another review, the veteran strategist C. Raja Mohan expressed some doubts about the thesis, but thought it might have the positive effect of showing what Americans really think about India. Hopefully, Mohan argued, the book might shock sections of India’s elite into a more ‘pragmatic’ view of the strategic partnership with America and give it a better sense of the limits of that relationship.

Mohan’s point is apposite: the notion of an ‘India threat’ has emerged in a difficult stage in the ongoing rapprochement between India and the US. It hands ammunition to the many Indian critics of the strategic partnership, who argue vociferously that American foreign policy is exploitative and fickle, and that India is unwise to commit itself to that arrangement.

But the ‘India threat’ also contradicts most other assessments of India’s military modernisation and strategic intentions, including Stephen P. Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta’s excellent 2010 book Arming without Aiming . These assessments emphasise two points; first, that India remains a relatively weak military power and, second, that its strategic behaviour is characterised by restraint, even in the face of serious provocation. India is modernising from a low base and must import arms because its defence industries are mostly incapable of providing what it needs. And, as Cohen and Dasgupta show, India presently lacks both the will and the means to be more assertive in its own immediate neighbourhood or further afield. Ultimately, the ‘India threat’ rings hollow.

More than words: Australia–Indonesia strategic relations

By Alexey Muraviev 11 April 2013 International Studies No Comments »

Author: Natalie Sambhi

Australia’s leaders from both sides of politics have been paying greater attention to Indonesia; there’s been more official engagement, as well as new diplomatic and defence initiatives in the past year. And we’ve been describing Indonesia, as our Defence Minister has during his Jakarta visit last week, in more important terms like ‘strategic partner’.

But it looks like that there’s some way to go before ‘strategic partner’ becomes more than just a term of endearment. If we look at the 2009 Defence White Paper (for the time being still the government’s defence strategic policy), we find a curious ambivalence towards Indonesia. According to the White Paper, we have a ‘fundamental interest in controlling the air and sea approaches to our continent’ (paragraph 5.5). But in reference to a secure immediate neighbourhood, it says we should prevent or mitigate ‘nearby states [from] develop[ing] the capacity to undertake sustained military operations within our approaches’ (paragraph 5.8). There’s a contradiction there; as Hugh White notes in his Security Challenges essay (PDF), it may very well be those same capabilities Indonesia requires to ensure its own security in its northern approaches that could be instrumental in both Indonesia and Australia securing their strategic interests.

In short, the language of the 2009 Defence White Paper simply doesn’t match our statements of Indonesia as a strategic partner. And although there are asymmetries in our capabilities, a strategic partnership means allowing and encouraging Indonesia to grow in a way that complements our strengths and compensates for our weaknesses so that we can work together; if Indonesia is to play an important role in our strategic future, then actively mitigating or preventing particular capacities isn’t the way to go.

This position might have been justifiable in white papers released after Konfrontasi (during which Australia and Indonesia found themselves on opposing sides of the conflict) or shortly after the 1999 East Timor intervention, during which relations with Indonesia were more fractious and the military (TNI) was only just exiting Indonesian politics. But times have changed.

On the domestic front, Indonesia is a much more stable, democratic state. In economic terms Indonesia is now starting to flex its muscle. Its GDP grew by an annualised 6.4% in the second quarter of 2012, its economy is now larger than Australia’s in purchasing power parity terms, and its middle class is larger than Australia’s population. TNI no longer exerts the same level of direct influence on politics and there’s a greater commitment to crack down on corruption. In regional terms, Indonesia enjoys greater clout and has attracted the attention of international partners such as the United States, the United Kingdom and China. Recent participation in RAAF-hosted Exercise Pitch Black 2012 (see image) shows Indonesia’s willingness to engage with partners such as Australia by sending their newest aircraft to build person-to-person ties and to dispel doubt as to their military intentions.

Barring a significant change in Indonesia’s trajectory of growth and domestic transformation, this is likely to become an enduring externality for Australian policy. Nonetheless, it’s worth thinking through the factors that could cause problems for Indonesia down the track: these include slowed growth, a change of leadership to one that is more internally focused, and deteriorating domestic stability. The question is whether these eventualities would adversely affect the Indonesia–Australia relationship in the long term or would merely slow the engagement temporarily. That said, the relationship between Indonesia and Australia seems to be on an unstoppable path of growth. A nationalist President of Indonesia would be a concern but wouldn’t necessarily require a radical rewrite of Indonesia’s place in our strategic interests. In any case, as one RSIS commentator notes (PDF), nationalism at present is not a call for concern.

Likewise, Australia can cause ructions over livestock, people smuggling or the incarcerations of Australians, but the fundamental shared interests should ultimately prevail. In terms of shifting regional geopolitics, Australia and Indonesia might have more in common in the future Asia as we both navigate China’s rise and the US rebalance. A Defence Cooperation Agreement signed recently between Australia and Indonesia provides a framework for practical cooperation on common security matters, but it’s time to work together as well on bigger, long-term strategic questions about the region.

Indonesia demands different handling in the next Defence White Paper, which is as much an opportunity as the Asian Century White Paper to correctly recognise Indonesia’s place. Language matters, because it sends a strong signal to both the Australian and Indonesian people about how we see each country’s place in the region. And while the majority of everyday people in each country may not delve into the pages of the White Paper, setting the tone for political interaction as well as doing away with ambiguous language remains important. Hopefully the 2013 White Paper will articulate Indonesia’s importance and elevate it to partner status rather than a subordinate. That sort of constructive language would remove the disparity between language of the 2009 White Paper and the increasing importance of close defence relations and alignment of strategic interests between the two nations.

The White Paper might start by recognising the complementarity across our capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. Or it could, as Hugh White suggests, create a heading for Indonesia separate from the rest of ‘our neighbourhood’ to recognise the important role it plays in our strategic environment. While there’s no prospect of an alliance between our countries in the foreseeable future, it would provide a more robust basis in our national policy to give a broader context to initiatives such as the recently signed Defence Cooperation Agreement.

Defence Minister Smith assures us that he is ‘committed to regular, open and transparent discussions with Indonesia on the development of Australia’s 2013 Defence White Paper’. Let’s hope the final cut pays them the same due respect.

India: a rising power?

By Alexey Muraviev 11 April 2013 International Studies No Comments »

Author Ashutosh Misra

The rise of India has been trumpeted by analysts and scholars for over a decade. Dietmar Rothermund’s India the rise of an Asian giant, Mira Kamdar’s Planet India, Edward Luce’s In spite of the gods: the strange rise of modern India, Arvind Pangariya’s India the emerging giant, Robyn Meredith’s The elephant and the dragon and Brahma Chellaney’s The Asian giants: China, India and Japan are some prominent specimens amongst the recent literature proliferation on India’s global ascent.

Most hail India’s rise as a positive and constructive phenomenon for global politics. And there are good reasons to think that. Globally, India remains committed to multilateralism, the democratisation of international organisations and cooperative regional frameworks such as SAARC, ASEAN, IBSA, BRICS or BIMSTEC, to promote regional security and cooperation. Such constructive and cooperative foreign policy orientation has won enormous goodwill for India overseas. The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently compared India’s rise to China’s, which gives to apprehension in some quarters: ‘the world takes a benign view of India’s rise…The world wants us to succeed’. The United States seems to share this view; President Obama has said that America would ‘look forward to a greater role for India on the world stage’, while US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, described India as a ‘linchpin’ in the American strategy for Asia.

There are exceptions to this positive assessment, such as George J. Golboy and Eric Heginotham’s Chinese and Indian Strategic Behavior which, by calling India a threat to the Asia–Pacific and to the United States’ policies, might have inadvertently inflated egos of the Indian foreign and defence policy mandarins. (Ian Hall discussed other Indian responses to this work on The Strategist recently.)

Their alarmist assessment not only disputes the majority scholarly accounts of India’s rise but also overlooks India’s foreign policy behaviour and war history. It argues for a revisionist US policy approach towards India to safeguard its national interest, but at the same time labels the same policy approach by India as pursuing ‘narrow-self-interest’. Srikanth Kondapalli, an Indian academic, responds to India’s labelling as a threat by saying that ‘unlike China, India has a free press and has no irredentist designs either in the South Asian region or in others’. And history testifies to this. India hasn’t been the aggressor in any of the four wars fought since independence, and still has a large chunk of its territory under the illegal occupation of China and Pakistan. Yet, consistent with its multilateral preferences, India prefers bilateral negotiations to wars for dispute settlement.

For all that, I remain unconvinced. However, having lived in India for over 38 years and having developed first-hand an understanding of India’s deep socio-political, religious and regional faultlines, I’m sceptical about India’s future potential and global role as being portrayed. Why? For a start, 60% of Indians reside in the countryside, which thinks, lives and speaks locally and remains untouched by the mantra of ‘inclusive growth’. This is the ‘other’ India, which personifies a deeply divided, agitated and frustrated society wherein people struggle to make ends meet; which repeatedly witnesses violent conflicts over identity and resources; which is governed by archaic institutional and political structures; and is therefore completely out of sync with the image of a rising power.

If one juxtaposes the scholarly assessments of India’s future with its domestic struggles with human development, class-caste conflict, Naxalism, home-grown terrorism, governance and corruption issues and lack of basic amenities such as clean drinking water and sanitation to the majority, one wonders if we’re jumping the gun, by either underestimating India’s internal predicaments or overestimating its global potential. Its challenges and systemic ills have already begun to stifle its rise. Most of the works I referred to above make repeated passing references to these internal challenges as detrimental to India’s rise and growth, yet still fail to accord the importance they deserve in the larger picture. For them, regardless of these problems India has already risen or will soon rise, which appears a rather half-baked analysis of India’s future. A more rounded picture can be found in some recent works like Katherine Boo’s Beyond the beautiful forevers, Siddharth Deb’s The beautiful and the damned: life in the new India, Ramachandra Guha’s India after Gandhi and Rajeev Bhargava’s The promise of India’s secular democracy. These writings better capture the failings of the Indian state, which has spent awful lot of time and resources in state building but very little on nation building. This could be the undoing of India’s rise.

Indonesia’s terrorism: a perpetual threat

By Alexey Muraviev 11 April 2013 International Studies No Comments »

Author: Levi J West

As we approach the tenth anniversary of the Bali bombing, there’ll be remembrance ceremonies, personal reflections, and the entirely justified acknowledgments of the successful law enforcement and security cooperation that emerged since 2002. But there has been limited public discussion on the ongoing threat that terrorism poses to both Indonesia and to Australia. While it’s relatively safe to assert that larger scale terrorist organisations such as Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) have been substantially impacted by the dedicated and effective work of Indonesia’s counterterrorism professionals, this shouldn’t be equated with an end to the terrorist threat. While JI as an organisation is significantly diminished as a likely perpetrator of violent terrorism, the threat remains, and is likely to remain, a permanent aspect of the regional security landscape. As such, it’s worthwhile considering how and why the terrorism threat evolved in Indonesia in the first instance, and how this relates to both international developments and to the domestic situation here in Australia.

Much of the change in the nature of terrorism in Indonesia is reflective of the evolution that has occurred within Al Qaeda internationally. In part as a response to global counterterrorism efforts, but also as a conscious implementation of the strategic thought of terrorist theorists such as Abu Musab al-Suri (seen as an influential exponent of modern jihad), Al Qaeda, and its regional branches and affiliates have adopted an alternative structure and strategy. These changes are proving highly effective in ensuring the preservation of some form of operational capability, and in providing a resilient mechanism for the transmission of ideological propaganda as well as the communication of knowledge of terrorist tradecraft. What was once taught in training camps in Afghanistan or Pakistan is now delivered over the internet in video and audio files containing religious sermons, education in military theory, and practical instruction in how to assemble homemade explosive devices. Most online forums provide all this material in a range of languages, ensuring easy access to a wide variety of content. The global penetration and local relevance of AQAP’s Inspire magazine is reflected in a report by the International Crisis Group on Indonesian jihadism that noted that the first issue was immediately translated into Indonesian. In addition to the adoption of this method of education and communication, the global salafi-jihadist movement has also altered its military strategy.

The ongoing emergence of localised affiliates or franchises, each with differing relationships to Al Qaeda central, has made the terrorism threat more diverse and the movement more resilient. This process however, usually needs a conflict zone, a degree of instability or state weakness (or some combination of those) to gain traction. The secondary element, which has been evidenced in Indonesia, is individual jihad (jihad fardiyah), an idea explicitly advocated by al-Suri in his magnum opus, The Call to Global Islamic Resistance. This strategy involves the abandonment of hierarchical organisational structures and allows individuals and small groups to undertake relatively autonomous attacks without the need to seek authorisation from a centralised command structure. This notion has gained particular currency amongst the jihadist community in Indonesia, with divisions arising between those who subscribe to jihad fardiyah and those who remain wedded to the idea of jihad tanzim (organised jihad). Indonesia has witnessed a spate of these small-scale attacks that have often targeted individuals rather than larger scale symbolic targets. Sidney Jones makes reference in the ICG report to what is known as ightiyalat, or secret assassinations as the ‘preferred method of operation’ for terrorists in Indonesia. The relative ease with which a small cell or a ‘lone wolf’ can strike against an individual target is appealing to terrorists operating in an oppressive counterterrorism environment.

What this means is that the organisational structures haven’t disappeared, and in fact still play an important role in the preservation of jihadist terrorism in Indonesia, in much the same way as Al Qaeda central continues to play a role in the ongoing promotion and inspiration of global terrorism. Organisations such as JI continue to provide what are essentially networking opportunities for prospective terrorists, and attempt to build broader support for the political objectives of Indonesian terrorism. In this sense, the small cells and individual represent the vanguard of the movement, while the organisational elements create legitimacy and support. While their direct role in specific plots may be limited, they retain an important function in the broader process of terrorism in Indonesia.

Terrorism in Western jurisdictions has suffered parallel changes, with smaller scale attacks by individuals who have auto-radicalised via Internet video content or through reading copies of Inspire. In particular, the United States has seen a number of incidents involving individuals who have had limited contact with a traditional terrorist ‘organisation’ but have had sufficient communication with the virtual manifestation of Al Qaeda.

The conscious implementation of this strategy, as articulated by al-Suri, either as sophisticated strategy or as a response to the successes of global counterterrorism, means that the international community will continue to face an agile, difficult to detect, and resilient threat from terrorism. The single greatest challenge remains the survivability of the ideas and ideologies that underpin and justify global salafi-jihadist terrorism. Reflecting on the successes that have been achieved in the post-Bali era is important, but it should not be forgotten that there remains a diminished but perpetual threat.

China choice: Thai parallels for Australia

By Alexey Muraviev 11 April 2013 International Studies No Comments »

Author: John Blaxland

After my most recent trip to Thailand, I began to reflect upon the parallels in security between Thailand and Australia. It seems to me that Thailand faces a similar conundrum to Australia: its principal security ties are with the United States while its trading ties are increasingly dependent on China. For both Australia and Thailand the US ties are associated with significant capability benefits derived from information exchanges as well as modern equipment, procedures, and techniques. Both of our countries recognise there are sensitive aspects of their US-derived military capabilities that are not meant for others. Thailand also has a long tradition of deftly handling competing great power aspirations to protect its national interests, having successfully played off imperial France and Britain in the past.Thailand, like Australia, has a sufficiently diversified and large economy to be able to withstand threats of economic pressure and make its own decisions based on its own national interests. In this sense, Thai practice might provide a useful yardstick for reflecting on defence-related options for Australia in its current dealings with China.

Like Australia, Thailand has been an American treaty ally since the Cold War and has a vested interest in retaining strong and effective military ties with the United States. Much of Thailand’s military equipment, doctrine and procedures are drawn from the United States, reflecting over half a century of bilateral investment. Thailand therefore can ill-afford to act as if that legacy doesn’t exist, lest its extant force capabilities are unduly undermined. At the same time, Thailand has an interest in maintaining the relationship with the United States in order to avoid being subject to excessive pressure from China.

But Thailand is being pressed to enhance its military cooperation with China. Thailand has purchased Chinese military ships, missiles and tanks before, but has been disappointed with their quality and is wary of being overly committed to Chinese hardware. In addition, the Thai military is heavily invested in using English, the language of ASEAN, rather than Mandarin. Still, a growth in occasional bilateral military projects withChina can be expected.

China wants to learn all about the US-derived tactics, techniques and procedures in use by the Thais, while offering little in return. In particular, China is interested in gaining a more detailed understanding of Thailand’s special forces and amphibious capabilities. This is due in part to China’s recognition that enhanced special forces and amphibious capabilities are a necessary prerequisite for the development of more robust Chinese force projection capabilities: that’s what will be needed if China intends to seize and hold any more of the disputed islands in the South China Sea and the islands near Taiwan. On this, the signs have become increasingly ominous.

In terms of the region’s broader dynamics,Thailand, like Australia, has become increasingly concerned about China’s assertiveness over regional disputes. China’s willingness to ignore the attempts at collective bargaining by ASEAN and to apply undue pressure bilaterally to the individual countries with which it has territorial disputes in the South China and East China Seas has shaken confidence at China’s claims to benign intent.

Thailand has looked on aghast at how China has co-opted Cambodia in a way that has undermined the cohesion and effectiveness of ASEAN. The Thais’ concern springs largely over fears for the well-being of ASEAN. A strong and unified ASEAN is something both Australia and Thailand see as in their national interests. For Thailand, ASEAN solidarity leads to a greater voice on the world stage. For Australia, greater ASEAN solidarity points to greater regional security and stability which implies better trading opportunities and a lesser need for defence funding as a hedge against increased security instability.

Thailand is feeling the pressure to increase military engagement with China even if it is at the expense of its relations with the United States. But the Thais recognise that they are best served by taking a different approach to that of neighbouring Laos and Cambodia. They have a bit more latitude because, unlike these countries,Thailand has no border with China. Therefore Thailand is in a position to be more proactive towards the west—and the United States in particular—because there’s less risk of direct confrontation with China.

Like Australia, Thailand sees the enduring benefit of keeping strong working relations with the US military, while at the same time looking to foster moderate and carefully calibrated but still meaningful military engagement with the Chinese armed forces as well. In the meantime, there is scope for closer collaboration between the Thai and Australian armed forces, including alongside US and other regional security partners in exercises such as the largest regional multilateral exercise that is focused largely on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief held annually in Thailand known as Exercise Cobra Gold.

John Blaxland is a senior fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University. He has recently returned from a study trip in Thailand.

International cyber security: a divided road

By Alexey Muraviev 11 April 2013 International Studies No Comments »

Author: Tobias Feakin

In the globalised, interdependent world in which we live our modern lives, the keystone that keeps much of our economies, infrastructures, lines of communication, defence, security, intelligence and social capital enabled is the cyber domain. Due to its international nature, this domain has created intimate interdependencies between states and also new avenues for states to achieve their policy objectives. Furthermore, as the domain empowers individuals, non-state actors and the private sector, a large-scale cooperative approach between a large number of stakeholders is required. And as technology develops in quantum leaps, questions remain about how we, as interdependent actors, will manage the cyber front.

The Budapest Conference on Cyberspace 2012 was the second international conference in a process begun by the UK Government in 2011 in London to begin a dialogue on international shared principles in cyberspace and to outline an agenda for a secure, resilient and trusted global digital environment. What became abundantly clear through the course of the Budapest conference was the divergent intellectual paths that countries are now taking in regard to this issue, and how distinct ‘camps’ are being established in the debate.

Broadly speaking there are two approaches that have been established for the challenge of creating increased cooperation in cyberspace. The first is to develop formal international laws and/or treaties through state-dominated organisations, most notably the United Nations. This line of action is one endorsed most prominently by Russia and China. The second approach is to develop a range of commonly accepted principles (norms) of behaviour which frame discussion and debate, which are more inclusive, provide more options and more gradually change mind-sets and behaviours. Those in this camp are countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, South Korea and most European nations.

There was palpable tension in the air in Budapest between these different positions, and this was echoed in William Hague’s opening remarks: ‘This is the growing divergence of opinion and action between those countries seeking an open future for the internet and those who are inching down the path of state control.’ Led by the European nations there was much time spent discussing the human rights aspects of cyber security, based on the premise that internet freedom is a fundamental right, especially by a highly animated President Toomas Ilves of Estonia, who proclaimed that: ‘They [China and Russia] will want to impose their authoritarianism on us, let’s not let them do this.’ This prompted the Chinese speaker who followed, Huang Huikang, Legal Advisor to the Chinese Foreign Minister, to ‘wonder if I am in the wrong place to attend a conference on cyberspace, it seems that I could be in Geneva at a human rights meeting.’ This underlined the feeling that many Chinese representatives had that they were being unnecessarily lectured to and underlining the divisions that exist between these two camps, a tension that was not settled by the end of the conference.

Resolving the divisions between the two camps is going to be a bumpy road ahead and there will have to be a great deal of work done on confidence building measures to lower the atmosphere of mistrust. One initiative announced by the UK government was of their plans to invest £2 million (AUD$3.14 million) to create a Centre for Cyber-Security Capacity Building which will look to increase collaboration, capacity building, good governance and skills sharing so that in an attempt to close the gap between those countries who understand the nature of the problems and how to respond and those who simply cannot keep pace. It is certain that more innovative initiatives like this need to be examined by a range of stakeholders, including the public and the private sectors to ensure that advice provided is balanced and processes are not state dominated.

The ‘elephant in the room’ was clearly the fact that there is so much malign cyber activity currently on-going, both state and non-state led, which outpaced much of the discussion going on. Therefore, whilst states discuss the principles upon which a framework for the ‘rules of the road’ in cyber space might be arranged, both the technology and techniques used for negative purposes are accelerating far beyond the boundaries of international discussion, and this challenge means that nations need to begin thinking outside of the conventional pathways for solving this issue. Much of the frameworks upon which the discussion are taking place, appear to an observer, as very similar to those which took place around Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in the 20th century, yet the technological advances taking place in those areas were at a far slower rate of development than those in the cyber domain, and the frameworks provided for stemming the proliferation of WMD are just not up to the task of bounding the use of cyber space, especially when the technology being discussed does not fall under the primary control of the Government.

The internet has been harnessed by the public and private sector in a way which has far outstripped Government’s ability to keep up, therefore, to now impose governmental boundaries on its use is highly problematic, and could stem economic innovation. What is certain is that this is only the beginning of a protracted international dialogue, and once we arrive at the next conference in Seoul in October 2013, we shall see how much further the divided road has become.

Interview: Walter Russell Mead on Asia’s game of thrones

By Alexey Muraviev 18 July 2012 Uncategorized No Comments »

Author: Sam Roggeveen

Below is the first instalment of my interview series with renowned US foreign policy analyst Walter Russell Mead, Editor-at-Large for The American Interest and author of Special Providence and God and Gold. He also runs the lively Via Meadia blog. Walter has been kind to the Lowy Institute and The Interpreter over the years, and it’s a thrill to get his contribution to our Asian Century feature.

Q. Walter, judging by your commentary on Via Meadia, it’s hard to pin you down or categorise you when it comes to what many in Australia have taken to calling ‘the Asian century’. There’s some realpolitik there, a sneaking regard for multilateral institutions such as ASEAN, encouragement for leaders who hold China’s feet to the fire on human rights, and scepticism toward the idea of American decline.

Another thing I’ve noticed on your blog recently is your recurring use of the popular TV series ‘Game of thrones’ as an analogy for the rivalries and power plays now occurring in the region.

With all that in mind, can you say something about the analytical framework you apply when you wrestle intellectually with the rise of China and the Asian century? Do you prefer theoretical models, historical analogies or draw inspiration from fiction? What’s the most useful and revealing prism through which to view this phenomenon?

A. Well, there’s no one theoretical model that captures reality. My view is more eclectic; I check many sources to help understand what’s going on in Asia today. International relations theory, historical analogies, popular fiction — each plays a role in my thinking.

I don’t think that we’re witnessing the emergence of a liberal multilateral order in Asia today, but it’s not impossible that over time something like that would emerge.

There is no single ‘prism’ through which to view the Asian century. It’s a mistake to think of Asia narrowly. If you look only at East Asia, the temptation is to analyse events as binary competition between China and the US, but if you look more broadly at the region from India to Korea and including Australia and New Zealand, it looks less like any two-way competition will determine the collective future of this very complex region.

But the Game of Thrones is my favourite way of talking about Asia. We use it on the blog firstly because we want readers to be excited, to read our posts. The Game of Thrones books and TV show are popular (for good reason), and at its heart, the series is really about foreign policy.

It’s about the mix of foreign and domestic concerns that influence policy abroad. I don’t actually think that much of international life is as cut-throat as it is in Game of Thrones. And most diplomats I know aren’t as good looking as the show’s characters. But in helping people understand the importance of power and influence in international life, this is not a bad example. There are lots of different autonomous power centres. It’s not a binary competition between two superpowers. It’s a world in which smaller states are pursuing their own goals and interests. Asia is like that — polycentric. The Asian political system is not bilateral or unipolar.

On American decline: I don’t see much evidence. In the ’90s it seemed to me that people were overestimating the unipolar moment. But it wasn’t unipolar in the ’90s. In the next decade, people swung too far the other way, hyping America’s decline. These are mood swings among the commentariat rather than changes in American power.

In Asia and the Pacific, the situation is broadly favourable for key American concerns. Rising prosperity is not a zero sum game. A richer Asia is a richer America. The US goal in Asia, as in Europe, is not to dominate a region but to promote the emergence of a peaceful order which meets the needs of the people in the region but offers good economic opportunities to the US and keeps security threats from emerging. Though Asia is very complicated, difficult and dangerous, it looks to me like all those objectives are reachable.

This comment was originally published in The Interpreter, Lowy Institute for International Policy

Demystifying Darwin

By Alexey Muraviev 18 July 2012 Uncategorized No Comments »

Author: Linda Jakobson

Chinese strategic thinkers, who previously did not pay much attention to far-off Australia, now want to know more about the ‘Darwin decision’. Was it directed at China, they ask? And how does the ‘Darwin decision’ figure in US strategic plans to re-balance in Asia?

Today, ‘Darwin’ is nearly a synonym for ‘Australia’ in the vocabulary of Chinese strategists. It has put Australia on the radar of Chinese security analysts in a way it was not before Barack Obama’s visit in November 2011.

Media attention has focused on the announcement that US Marines will be based in Darwin for parts of the year to train with the Australian Defence Force. However, Canberra and Washington also agreed that the US would be granted greater access to Australian bases, particularly airfields (for US jet fighters and B-52 bombers); would be allowed to preposition fuel, ammunition and spare parts; and would develop plans with Australia to increase the use of Western Australia’s Stirling naval base by US vessels.

On the basis of three visits to Beijing this year, I do not think China’s security establishment is convinced that ‘this is not about China’.

Since the Obama-Gillard visit, Darwin has been the scene of another high level meeting, the Australia-Indonesia leaders summit in early July. As Peter Hartcher notes, Darwin was the meeting place of choice for Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY). Of course, by choosing Darwin, SBY saved on flight time, but could there also have been symbolism in choice of host city?

Hartcher suggests it was tacit signal of SBY’s approval of Washington’s commitment to a continued US presence in Southeast Asia. Immediately after the ‘Darwin decision’ was announced, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said that the US deployment plan risked creating a ‘vicious circle of tension and mistrust in the region’ unless its purpose was made transparent. Hartcher implies that, by his presence in Darwin, SBY was subtly distancing himself from the criticism made by his Foreign Minister.

Darwin needs to be demystified. So why not start by a symbolic step and have the next meeting between the Australian prime minister and visiting senior Chinese leader in Darwin?

In a recent Lowy Institute Policy Brief, I recommended that China be invited to participate in the planned humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) joint exercises off Darwin involving Australia, the US and Indonesia. The PLA might initially refuse, and even if it accepted, it would probably first send merely a handful of observers. But the invitation would send a signal to Beijing: the ‘Darwin decision’ was not (all) about China. Darwin could be made into a regional HADR base for bilateral and multilateral exercises including with the PLA. It could also be used more often as a venue for summits focusing on regional security.

Visiting VIPs would get a feel for Australia’s multi-ethnic population in this city of 127,000 inhabitants. The present Lord Mayor of Darwin is Katrina Fong Lim, a fourth-generation Chinese Australian. Her father, Alex Fong Lim, was Australia’s first Lord Mayor of ethnic Chinese descent and was awarded the Order of Australia in 1986 for his services. His grandparents arrived in the Northern Territory from China during the 1880s.

Australia should use the Darwin aura to its advantage.

This comment was originally published in The Interpreter, Lowy Institute for International Policy

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