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Hope aground in South China Sea

By Alexey Muraviev 18 July 2012 Uncategorized No Comments »

Author: Rory Medcalf

Talks on an ASEAN-China code of conduct in the South China Sea were not the only thing to run aground in that contested body of water last week. Yesterday the Chinese navy rescued one of its frigates, which had been embarrassingly stranded on Half Moon Shoal, in waters claimed by the Philippines and China.

Below are a few initial thoughts on the wider implications of the frigate Dongguan’s (pictured) brief spell of unsought fame (see also my analysis for The Guardian).

Many observers, myself included, had thought that China was cleverly restraining itself in relying primarily on the lightly-armed or even unarmed vessels of civilian agencies, and not its navy, to enforce and advance its claims in the South China Sea. For instance, according to Crisis Group, the People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) has not engaged in any incident in the South China Sea since it began regularly patrolling there in 2005.

Yet the log of the Dongguan might raise new questions about such a view. In its minimalist admission of the stranding on Friday, China’s Ministry of Defence described the frigate as having been on a ‘routine patrol’. A Chinese warship on routine patrol in dangerously disputed waters just 90nm off the coast of the Philippines would not seem to be a sign of restraint.

If China is indeed deploying naval vessels routinely to assert its outlying claims, then the game is changing for the worse. And an unconfirmed but detailed account from early 2011 suggests that the deployment of this very warship to intimidate Philippines fishermen is not a first.

Any view that China (and other nations) can maintain provocative patrolling in contested waters without a dangerous incident, such as a collision or exchange of fire, rests on assumptions about the professionalism and seamanship of the mariners concerned.

No doubt navigating reef waters is tricky for any ship, as navy colleagues charitably remind me. But the Dongguan incident suggests an unwarranted confidence on the part of at least one commander in China’s South Sea Fleet. It does not bode well for future games of nautical chicken on China’s perilous maritime edge. And this is by no means suggesting that the mariner skills of all the other nations operating in the area are somehow superior.

On the bright side, the success of the Chinese refloating operation has headed off what could have become a prolonged and awkward diplomatic incident and a potential stand-off with Philippines forces. China’s diplomats will still have some explaining to do, and no doubt there will be difficult questions asked within the PLAN’s own chains of command.

The way the story came to light is a reminder that there is much more going on in the multi-player maritime cat-and-mouse games of the contested waters on China’s periphery than most of the outside world ever realises. It is doubtful the PLAN ever wanted to publicise this mishap. Instead, it took an Australian journalist, John Garnaut, to break the story on Friday afternoon, citing diplomatic sources, almost 48 hours after the accident occurred. The Philippines and international media picked up and added to his report. A few hours later, Garnaut’s story seems to have compelled the Chinese Ministry of Defence to acknowledge a problem they knew they were no longer be able to hide. The Chinese media began reporting on the rescue thereafter, and by Sunday were able to confirm that national dignity had been restored.

But for three and a half days, the ship’s company of the Dongguan staked China’s claim to 100m or so of Half Moon Shoal in a more direct fashion than they could ever have intended.

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

What Abbott will do about defence

By Alexey Muraviev 18 July 2012 Uncategorized No Comments »

Author: Graeme Dobell

As the arrival next year of Tony Abbott’s government looms ever closer, it is illuminating to have a de facto election manifesto.

The glimpse of what the Coalition will offer voters is courtesy of a fine journalistic ‘get’ by Crikey, which published the Coalition’s confidential speaker notes for its MPs. This party-line guidance offers a briefing on the policy framework for next year’s election. Consider it Tony’s worldview rendered as dot points.

The guidance stacks up as a de facto policy document for 2013 because it repeats much of what the Coalition presented in the 2010 election while offering some fresh details on the way thinking is evolving. Reflecting the changing balance of Oz politics, a notable feature of the notes is the way the Greens get nearly as much attention as Labor. Each section has, as you’d expect, a set of points attacking Labor’s failures, followed later by a separate section attacking the Greens; the three-corner election is coming to a suburb close to you.

So, courtesy of Crikey, here are the Coalition’s pledges on defence:

  • The Coalition will commit to restoring defence funding of Defence to 3% real growth out to 2017-18 as soon as we can afford it.
  • Continue and further develop Australia’s strategic alliance with the United States the Coalition would be open to a bilateral arrangement with the US that would allow the recognition of particular bases as new joint facilities, such as those at Pine Gap and Exmouth.
  • Retain the Australian Strategic Policy Institute as independent defence analysts.
  • Appoint an Industry Advocate for the Defence Materiel Organisation to provide a clear path for complaints and appeals by small and medium firms on tender and contractual matters (recycled from the 2010 policy).
  • Invest in improved maritime surveillance capabilities for the ADF. This initiative will include a greatly enhanced maritime patrol capability and a greater emphasis on intelligence cooperation with neighbours.

The promise to return to 3% real growth is obviously the big call, despite those wonderful weasel words ‘as soon as we can afford it’. Yep, folks, the Coalition is going to be rock solid on defence…depending on what it finds in the wallet. Bear in mind that Defence’s budget this financial year is set to fall by 10.5% in real terms. The ever invaluable Mark Thomson calculates that this shrinkage is the largest year-on-year reduction since the end of the Korean war in 1953, with a total of $5.5 billion cut from the Defence budget over four years.

That means the Coalition is going to have to find a lot of spare cash to turn round the budget estimates if it is to get back to 3% real growth by 2017-18. Between now and next year’s election, Labor is promising a new Defence White Paper, so the fog of war is about to settle over spending projections: battalions of conflicting figures and projections will do battle.

The Coalition promise of more joint facilities for the US is fascinating. Essentially, it is an open invitation to the US. Take your pick: any air bases you like the look of? Plus, this would set up another round of speculation about what the US might want to do in the Indian Ocean with Cocos Island.

After the Coalition’s two whale-sized promises – spending and more joint facilities – the third promise is a minnow. Many in Canberra (if not everybody in Defence) have developed a firm affection for Australian Strategic Policy Institute since the Howard Government decided in 2000 to create ‘an independent, non-partisan policy institute…to provide fresh ideas on Australia’s defence and strategic policy choices’. ASPI’s output is now essential to any sensible discussion of Oz defence policy. But this rates as a no-cost promise. Defence probably spends more on coffee and tea than it does on ASPI. A guarantee of ASPI’s continued existence and independence, however, is still worthy of note. Many other institutions around the national capital would love to have such a pledge from an incoming Abbott Government.

The document is silent on new submarines and planes, further proof that this headache is a shared Canberra affliction.

Perhaps the 3% pledge should be read as a commitment to resume doing everything the same way John Howard did it. That means the Joint Strike Fighter should stay safe, because it was a Howard legacy program. Labor, though, has deeper historical ownership of the subs. The Hawke Government decided to build the six Collins submarines in Adelaide. The Rudd Government decided to repeat the effort and upped the projected number of subs to 12. Not much Howard legacy there; more a memory of all the misery that the Collins delivered the Coalition when in office.

Next year’s White Paper is going to be a vital exercise, giving both sides politics a fresh view of what to do about the giant equipment buys.

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

LHDs risk our Indonesia relations

By Alexey Muraviev 8 May 2012 Uncategorized No Comments »

Author: Raoul Heinrichs

In the midst of a number of ongoing national security debates here on The Interpreter, Hugh White this week opened a third front in The Age, exposing the dubious thinking behind the proposed transformation of a substantial portion of the Australian Army into a mini-Marine Corps, to be embarked on two enormous LHD amphibious assault ships. His arguments are basically threefold:

  1. As a result of technological changes in the balance between offense and defence at sea, the presence of even limited enemy sea-denial capabilities – torpedoes, anti-ship missiles and sea-mines — pose operational risks so high as to render the LHDs, packed full of Australian soldiers, virtually unusable.
  2. There are few, if any, credible high-level contingencies in which the large-scale deployment of Australian land-power could would be a cost-effective operational choice.
  3. For non-vital sea-lift operations – uncontested stabilisation missions and disaster relief, for example – massive amphibious ships embarked with soldiers trained in amphibious assault go well beyond the necessary requirements, and so once again fail the test of cost-effectiveness.

By themselves, these arguments should be sufficiently compelling to dissuade Australian defence planners from their present course. But there’s a third argument which Hugh hasn’t raised that lends even more weight to his misgivings. Because amphibious forces confer the ability to seize and hold territory from the sea, a concerted effort at cultivating such capabilities, even a quite modest force, risks fueling very real Indonesian anxieties about Australian territorial ambitions.

For decades now, Australia has managed to remain the dominant military power south of China and east of India without provoking any major Indonesian response.That’s not because Jakarta trusts us, but because we’ve tended to wisely eschew the kind of offensive capabilities most likely to spark a security dilemma – that is, those capabilities necessary to threaten Indonesian territorial integrity.

The development of an otherwise irrational amphibious force, taken together with the  deployment of US Marines in Darwin, represents the beginning of the unwitting reversal of this implicit policy of restraint.

Needless to say, the timing is hardly propitious. With tectonic changes underway in north Asia and in a new era of fiscal stringency, Australian strategists should not only be thinking very hard about optimal force structure requirements, but also about how to allay Indonesian concerns. In particular, they should be exploring innovative ways to encourage, maybe even institutionalise, the concentration of Indonesian military power to the north of the archipelago, where by acting as an outer barrier it would redound to Australia’s benefit.

Instead, in a forlorn attempt by the Army to retain relevance, which the Navy seems willing to indulge, Australia risks leaving Indonesian defence planners distracted, with little option but to divide their northward focus by keeping one cautious eye to the south.

Has Asia’s power balance really shifted?

By Alexey Muraviev 8 May 2012 Uncategorized No Comments »

Author:  Brendan Taylor

Brendan Taylor is Head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University.

As China rises, how far and how fast is Asia’s power balance shifting? My colleague Hugh White seems to suggest that this question has already been answered when he argues that ‘the major strategic shifts have already taken place.’

Hugh is not alone in making such claims. Dissecting the recent fracas between Chinese and Philippine naval ships in the South China Sea, the American scholar Michael Auslin concludes: ‘The Scarborough Shoals dispute shows Chinese assertions aren’t stopping, and that Beijing’s ability to intimidate neighbours is shifting the balance of power.’

But I’m not sure power in Asia has yet shifted quite as far or as fast as Hugh seems to imply. I’m even less convinced that standoffs in Scarborough Shoal can tell us very much about that anyway.

Much has been made, of course, regarding the importance of the South China Sea as a theatre for future great power conflict. Yet the connection between this theatre and Asia’s larger strategic balance remains a tenuous one. This is because the South China Sea isn’t really a vital interest for any of Asia’s great powers (except perhaps for China), notwithstanding Hillary Clinton’s claims to the contrary.

Rather than honing in on Chinese assertiveness in the strategically marginal South China Sea, I’d argue that we can draw far sounder conclusions about Asia’s strategic balance by focusing on Beijing’s recent restraint around issues where great power interests are genuinely engaged.

Take, for example, China’s muted response to India’s recent test of a nuclear-capable missile. Rather than throwing its weight around, Beijing’s reaction was instead to claim that ‘India and China are not rivals but cooperative partners.’

Chinese pronouncements have been similarly circumspect of late on issues where the US is genuinely invested. Beijing’s reaction to the Obama Administration’s September 2011 arms sales to Taiwan, for instance, was significantly less strident than previous responses to such announcements. Beijing has fallen more into line with the US and its allies over North Korea’s missiles, publicly condemning Pyongyang’s recent test and coordinating with Washington in advance of it. Closer to home, while the Chinese media went mad, Beijing’s response to the recent deployment of US Marines to Darwin has been low key.

Some might say that Beijing’s reticence in these instances is nothing more than a tactical move designed to repair the damage to China’s image that its foreign policy assertiveness of recent years has caused. If that were the case, however, how do we explain continuing Chinese aggressiveness in the South China Sea?

The conclusion I draw is that Beijing does not think Asia’s power balance is yet shifting in its favour quite as far or as fast as Hugh and others suggest.

This is certainly not to argue that power won’t shift significantly over time. I’m in complete agreement with Hugh that there is a good deal of wishful thinking going around suggesting that China will inevitably falter and that American primacy will endure in perpetuity.

What I think it does say, however, is that Asia’s power shift will be far more gradual. As Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers reminds us, it takes time to translate economic prosperity into genuine strategic weight. As the Asian century unfolds, we will need to find more sophisticated ways for understanding this process (particularly as it applies to China and, in time, India and Indonesia) and its ramifications for the larger Asian balance.

Why the South China Sea matters

By Alexey Muraviev 8 May 2012 Uncategorized No Comments »

Author: Michael Wesley

I was somewhat surprised to read Brendan Taylor’s matter-of-fact statement that the South China Sea isn’t really a vital interest for any of Asia’s great powers, except perhaps for China. I’m not so sure about this, for two reasons.

First, the South China Sea is emerging as the Achilles heel in China’s ‘peaceful rise’ strategy. Ever since Zhou Enlai announced that the South China Sea was a ‘core interest’, its claims to that waterway have stood as a warning to other claimants that perhaps China’s regional dominance may not be as benign as Chinese leaders say it will be. Even more alarming for Southeast Asian states than the actual clashes between China and the Philippines and Vietnam is the growing evidence that Beijing has been able to split ASEAN’s diplomatic solidarity on the issue.

Why would Asia’s other great powers be interested in this? Because the reaction to China’s rise and claims by its neighbours, however small, will play a vital role in the future strategic landscape in the Indo-Pacific.

If Beijing can convince its neighbours that its growing wealth and military power are benign, it will have advanced a long way towards dominance in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. But if its neighbours remain wary, twinning their closer economic integration with China with tighter defence relations with America, India, Japan and each other, Beijing will simply not have the elbow room to pursue broader dominance.

In other words, America and Asia’s second-tier powers need a wary Southeast Asia in order to contest and hedge against China’s rising power.

Second, as Toshi Yoshihara and James Holmes argue in Red Star Over the Pacific, the South China Sea is a vital arena in the growing naval competition between the American and Chinese navies. They argue that Chinese strategists see the South China Sea as a breakout point from the first island chain into the broader Pacific. It is the only place within the first island chain with the expanse and depth to baffle the American and Japanese navies’ capacity to bottle in the Chinese navy.

And in a fascinating comparison of imperial Germany’s maritime geography and that of China, they argue convincingly that China has the strategic advantage in naval competition in the South China Sea. This makes the South China Sea an area of great interest and worry to the US and Japan.

Asia-Pacific theatre Putin’s new stage

By Alexey Muraviev 20 March 2012 Uncategorized No Comments »

Author: Alexey Muraviev

Earlier this month, Vladimir Putin scored a clear victory in the first round of presidential elections, securing more than 63 per cent of the Russian vote. This followed a rocky start in parliamentary elections late last year. Putin’s United Russia party performed poorly, but managed to keep its majority in the Duma through widespread fraud.

Putin has invested all his political will to return to the top seat in the Kremlin. He’s a clever man: his US-style campaign amalgamated the best-selling points of his political opponents including the communists, liberal-democrats and street opposition.

Putin managed to draw under his wing not just traditional conservatives, low-income earners, government employees, the military and security apparatus. He also ignited elements of the growing middle class and younger Russians.

Despite the landslide victory, Putin faces several tough choices. About one-third of the voters supported alternative candidates. That’s a clear signal the nation expects swift socioeconomic and political reforms. To move the country forward and restructure its resource-based economy Putin will need to initiate domestic liberal reforms.

This is likely to be combined with a tougher approach to foreign policy. During the election campaign, Putin outlined his view on how and where Russia will engage with the world. For the first time, the Asia-Pacific was given preference over Europe, the US and even post-Soviet space.

This September, Russia will host the APEC Summit in Vladivostok, which will give Putin a platform to promote his vision of Russia’s engagement with the Asia-Pacific region.

After a period of prolonged decline and self-absorption, Moscow has intensified its re-engagement with central Asia and the Indo-Pacific.

The economic driver of Russia’s re-engagement is the realisation that the centre of global business activity is shifting into the Indo-Pacific, and that its own economy, including the mighty energy sector, requires market diversification and expansion.

The political driver is a desire to enhance Russia’s regional influence by reanimating old Soviet ties and by establishing close links with former political rivals. Relations with the Commonwealth of Independent States and Europe remain the prime strategic focus. But the eastern Indo-Pacific direction of Russian foreign policy is gaining importance.

The strategic driver is a heightened threat perception compared with other geopolitical areas of significance for Russia. The vast Asia-Pacific theatre allows Russia a platform to display its restored military power to potential allies and friends, through military exercises and out-of-area deployments.

Putin has made it clear that he will oversee Russia’s great power return. Over a decade in power he has managed to rebuild Russia’s fallen power by making it once again an independent and, at times, an uncomfortable international player.

This comment was originally published in The Australian.

We’ve lost the battle for hearts and minds

By Alexey Muraviev 13 March 2012 Uncategorized No Comments »

Author: Jason Thomas

The murder of 16 Afghan civilians by a lone US soldier in Afghanistan this week is a tragic incident, which destroys the fundamental principles upon which this population-centric war is being fought.

This war is as much about winning the hearts and minds of the population as killing the enemy. If the Coalition forces and the Afghan Government cannot be seen to protect the population, then the only alternative is the Taliban.

Counterinsurgency is the military’s version of what our civil criminal and social justice systems do in areas riddled by crime, drugs and a cycle of inter-generational poverty. Whether it’s Afghanistan or the Bronx, the population is the prize and it is no-longer acceptable just to shoot the bad guys.

Fighting the Taliban has become a multi-layered offensive that combines the maintenance of security, the restoration of law and order, women’s rights, rebuilding social, health and educational facilities, establishing systems of governance and straight out capturing and killing the enemy.

The problem is, counterinsurgency demands conflict that doesn’t fit within our short electoral timeframes in the West. It requires breaking down a cultural and religious incompatibility that would take generations to achieve, even without a war. As the Israeli military historian and theorist Martin Van Creveld contends, other than moral boundaries time is one of the key enemies in counterinsurgency.

As with our own Government in Australia, the difficult decisions are those that will not benefit voters for years to come. Investments in many aspects of sewage, water, electricity, education, environment, health, unemployment and security, may not benefit the electorate for years to come. We are trying to convince an already suspicious population whose focus in the villages of Afghanistan is on survival, to trust us now. This is a hard political sell.

For all his cerebral qualities, US President Barack Obama failed to recognise these issues when, no sooner had he announced the Afghanistan surge in late 2009, he was already planning the withdrawal.

While we have been in Afghanistan for ten years, we have only really been in there properly since 2009. Between the end of 2001 and 2007, Afghanistan was the forgotten war and in that period the Taliban mastered their own surge, entrenching themselves further in the Afghanistan villages and building strong training grounds in Pakistan.

The population neither felt protected nor could they trust many of their corrupt Afghan Government officials or thuggish Afghan National Police Commanders, who often played police in the day and Taliban at night.

Even now, too few troops are engaging with the population and too many non-government organisations are confined to Kabul and have still not learnt to live within the population. Using the population as your security, building on the tribal law of Pashtunwali, is one of the best forms of community-based security for any civilian working in Afghanistan.

The question that needs to be addressed is: did we need to rebuild a nation emerging from the 9th Century to achieve our objective of defeating Islamic fundamentalist-inspired terrorism attacking the Australia or our allies?

At the end of 2001, international forces had defeated and destroyed the major Taliban assets. Most of the senior al-Qaeda network had been captured and killed or had slipped through the net and escaped into Pakistan.

The coercive power of war could have been used at that time to achieve a political solution.  Instead Western Governments fell for the romantic idea that nation-building abroad could provide insurance against terrorism at home.

In Afghanistan, we believe we can overcome this cultural incompatibility using money as a weapon. Instead we inflame the diverse social and mostly isolated population bases through a series of Western manufactured, inorganic, one-size-fits-all instruments that were – and in the most continue to be – anathema to the local cultural and social architecture that exists outside Kabul.

Most local Taliban could easily be picking up an AK-47 to shoot Coalition forces one day and a shovel to clean a karez (irrigation channel) the next. Neither action is intended to be part of a global jihad or to overthrow the government in Kabul.

They certainly cannot be acquiesced by the promise of democracy, building a new road or painting a school, when the basis for life in Afghanistan is a rigid belief in Islam and where all politics is local.

Part of the mistake in the current top-down level of strategic thinking. We continue to approach negotiations from a Western democratic mindset. We forget that Western democracy has been developed over a long tumultuous period of history, including numerous revolutions and civil wars.

Afghan tribes and villagers experienced democracy for the first time in 2004. It could well be that because the introduction of democracy, constitution and rules of law to Afghanistan was through foreign intervention rather than an organic revolution, it will take even longer to cement any trust in the Afghanistan Government.

And as we have seen in the places like Libya and Syria, this can be a bloody affair. It is best if we keep out.

Last week one of my former local staff in Kandahar Fahard, a young man with a new baby, said to me that once the US withdraws after 2014, “Afghanistan will be the same like in 1990s”. He went onto say “when the US leaves, the snakes will keep coming and will take everything from us.

“The snakes are not Afghans but those who live across the border. The neighbouring countries will take over and once again the terrorists will start coming to our country. This time the terrorist groups will be smart, and they won’t be obvious they will continue their operations against the West.”

So much for rebuilding a nation to defeat terrorism.

Jason Thomas worked alongside US forces in Afghanistan in 2009-2010 and in 2011. He has also worked in South Sudan and the Civil War area in Sri Lanka

This comment was originally published in The Punch

R2P and Syria: Avoiding collateral damage

By Alexey Muraviev 27 February 2012 Uncategorized No Comments »

by Tim Dunne

Tim Dunne is Director of Research Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect at the University of Queensland.

We are in danger of drawing the wrong conclusions from the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Syria. There already seems to be a consensus in the global media that the lack of coercive measures taken against President al-Assad’s regime shows that the principle of ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) is in trouble.

According to this line of argument, the concerted and authorised action to protect Libyans (Resolution 1973) now looks like an exceptional moment of internationalist sentiment and action that is never likely to be repeated. Suddenly, the diplomatic clock appears to have been turned back to the dark days of diplomatic indifference witnessed during the genocide in Rwanda.

Stewart Patrick, Director of the Global Governance Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, recently wrote a blog post called ‘Responsibility to Protect in Crisis’. Patrick argues that R2P is ‘in major crisis’ primarily because the mission in Libya ‘did not pave the way for some of the changes that its advocates hoped for’. Previously, David Rieff had read the last rites in a NY Times article called R2P: RIP.

It is possible to quibble with the view that Libya was an unalloyed example of an R2P operation, for two reasons. First, the key Security Council resolution talked about Libya’s failure to live up to its responsibility to protect, rather than invoking the more disputed dimension of the international community’s responsibility to take timely and decisive action.

Second, and more significantly, the R2P advocates Patrick has in mind were more equivocal about Libya. Gareth Evans, for example, voiced concerns about the shifting rationale for NATO’s action. Evans points out that the slippage in the justification for the war put forward by the UK, France, and the US — from the original protection of civilians mandate to ‘regime-change lite’ — has been costly in terms of stymieing coercive action against President al-Assad’s regime.

Whatever the diplomatic fissures revealed by last weekend’s failure to agree a Security Council resolution, it is important to remember that there has never been a global consensus about how to operationalise R2P when the state in question is failing to live up to its responsibilities and will not permit external assistance.

In this sense, the decision that has taken place over the last decade to locate authority for R2P enforcement action solely in the UN Security Council means there will always be cases where an obstinate great power (or two) can stop the will of the others. It stands to reason that the coercive aspect of R2P can either be enabled by the Security Council as it was in Libya, or prevented, as it has been so far in Syria.

Talk of a crisis of R2P masks two critically important issues. Policy advisers in Western Europe and the US will want to revisit the claim made by supporters of the Kosovo intervention who maintained that a likely Russian and Chinese veto would have been unreasonable. This of course was a prelude to action taking place against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia outside of the remit of the Council.

Those inclined to replace the UN order with a ‘League of Democracies’ will be bolstered by the strong rhetoric currently being heard about China and Russia being morally culpable for the rising death toll among the political opposition in Homs and elsewhere. How can a UN Charter which begins with the words ‘We, the peoples’ be repeatedly set to one side because one or more authoritarian power believes it is due more respect?

Reviving the question of the Security Council’s monopoly over R2P authorisation is a discussion that will be emboldened after Syria. The other is the question of the gap that can open up between Security Council permission and control over military operations. This is an issue that underpinned a recent statement by the Brazilian Government regarding the need for greater responsibility to be exercised ‘while protecting’.

The Brazilian proposal includes two important revisions to the R2P framework: ensuring a decision to use force is criteria-led, and building in a review mechanism such that the members of the UN are informed about the mandate’s implementation. These and other debates will continue to inform the evolution of R2P.

We should remember that the real crisis is the brutality that some governments continue to inflict on their people: R2P or some variant of it is likely to continue to inform responses to humanitarian infernos even though concerted and lawful action to extinguish them will remain rare and prone to inconsistent implementation.

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

Stephen Smith’s Super Hornet itch

By Alexey Muraviev 27 February 2012 Uncategorized No Comments »

by Sam Roggeveen

Here’s what Defence Minister Smith said in parliament yesterday, in response to a question noting that the US has announced a slow-down in production of the Joint Strike Fighter:

Since July last year I have been saying the absolutely essential decision for this year is a judgment about whether we are at risk of a capability gap. What would potentially cause that capability gap? It would be a delay in the production of the Joint Strike Fighter and the ageing of our classic Hornets, which have served us very well, and continue to serve us well, but are currently the subject of a deep maintenance program. So that is the risk to our capability—that the Joint Strike Fighter is delivered later than was originally expected or anticipated. I have indicated that we will do an exhaustive review of that this year and make a judgment about any gap in capability this year.

I have said that the Super Hornet is an obvious option so far as any filling of a gap in capability is concerned. We have made no decision about that, but the fact that we have 24 Super Hornets and the fact that 12 are wired for ‘Growler’ is a relevant, material consideration.

The Canberra Times had a long piece on the RAAF’s fighter requirements last weekend which noted Smith’s repeated hints that he favours the purchase of additional Super Hornets. According to the article, Smith is ignoring advice that it would be more cost effective to do a thorough upgrade of our current fleet of ‘classic’ Hornets:

A life extension program for the ”Classic” Hornets has been described as ”the least bad option” by senior Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Andrew Davies and is supported by former chief of air force and now Williams Foundation spokesman, Air Marshal (ret) Errol McCormack. It has also been endorsed by sources close to Lockheed Martin. ”The only justification for a second Super Hornet tranche would be a catastrophic failure of the JSF program resulting from a natural disaster that saw Fort Worth (the site of the production line) sink into the earth,” we were told. ”In the event of minor delays is the Australian Government really going to spend billions of dollars for a few months of bridging capability?”

I guess ‘sources close to Lockheed Martin’ would say that, given Lockheed would rather see Defence Department dollars going to its JSF program than to Boeing for its Super Hornets.

FWIW, here’s a post I wrote in September last year arguing that there’s no need for us to rush into a Joint Strike Fighter purchase. Hugh White seemed to agree.

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

Timor-Leste: Everybody needs good neighbours

By Alexey Muraviev 23 February 2012 Uncategorized No Comments »

by Jim Della-Giacoma

Jim Della-Giacoma is South East Asia Project Director for the International Crisis Group.

Early in 2010, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was sitting in Kabul with some diplomats who had served in Indonesia and Timor-Leste.

‘Is it true’, he asked, ‘that Indonesia just walked away from East Timor after 1999?’

‘Absolutely’, they replied.

Karzai is a natural sceptic, but he saw something to be admired in the way Indonesia had turned its back on a conflict by which it had so long defined itself. ‘This is not something well understood’, he said.

Last month at the Australian Civil-Military Centre I was asked to remember what had been learnt from the first three international interventions in East Timor between 1999 and 2002, each often cited as a success story. First, UNAMET ran the referendum that certified the Timorese desire for independence. Then INTERFET enforced the peace and guaranteed the outcome of the vote would be respected. Finally, UNTAET brought the country to independence.

In 1999, UNAMET, while nominally a UN mission, was an extension of Canberra’s foreign policy with the whole of government behind it. Prime Minister Howard rolled up his sleeves and negotiated with President Habibie all sorts of details, including the number of UN civilian police supervising the ballot and the establishment of an Australian consulate in Dili. Foreign Minister Downer proclaimed there should be no logistical reasons for delaying the ballot. If the UN needed something, it would be provided.

Proximity gave Australia both motive and means to back this and subsequent missions. It would not have and could not have done the same for either Sri Lanka or Singapore.

As UNAMET proceeded, the ADF quietly planned for the day when things did go wrong and UN personnel and their families, as well as prominent citizens such as Nobel laureate Bishop Belo, needed sanctuary. This evacuation rolled into INTERFET, which saw an unprecedented mobilisation of Australian diplomatic, military, and financial muscle in support of a peace enforcement operation. About A$740 million later, Australia handed responsibility for security to UNTAET in early 2000.

Most contemporaneous lessons learnt focused on UNTAET’s technocratic failings. If you were in it, as I was, you knew it was an ad hoc adventure and a bit chaotic. The experts concluded the UN was unequipped for such a mammoth task and needed to be reformed to meet future challenges. Yet while UNTAET was flawed, it did hand over a functioning government for the Timorese to run on 20 May 2002.

One key factor in the success of these missions is often neglected — the absence of external spoilers. This is what President Karzai saw too.

Timor-Leste was a lucky country that came of age just as Indonesia democratised and its military was leaving the national stage. The post-Soeharto civilian political leadership quickly turned its back on the former province and got on with the business of internal reform. It repealed the 1976 integration law in October 1999 and left the territory to the UN. Then Mines and Oil Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono renounced Indonesia’s claim on Timor’s oil, thereby making the new republic economically viable.

By the time the UN was ready to give the country back to the Timorese in May 2002, Indonesia had been through three presidents. Megawati Soekarnoputri, the one least supportive of East Timor’s plight, magnanimously showed up for the party.

But, Mr Karzai, Indonesia did not just walk away from Timor, it did something much more extraordinary: it enthusiastically embraced the idea of an independent Timor-Leste.

Such diplomatic gymnastics still startle the old hands every time one of the Indonesian veterans of 1999 blogs, tweets, or posts pictures of new found Timorese friend who was once their adversary. Despite the odd hiccup (the two countries still cannot agree on a land or maritime border), the relationship is increasingly broad and mutually profitable.

After UNAMET was over, UN officials wrote to Australian counterparts to tell them we could not have performed the mission without them. Indonesia never received such thank-you letters, as its turn-around from belligerent party to good neighbour took some years. Also, its misbehaviour and scorched earth policy in 1999 has never been forgotten and neither have the crimes against humanity that took place on Jakarta’s watch, which are still to be properly accounted for.

But how did a friendship blossom amid such bitter memories? Most importantly, the Timorese were ready to trade justice for peace. The realpolitik moment was the final report of the imperfect 2005-2008 Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF). In turn for not pursuing crimes against humanity against Indonesian perpetrators, Timor-Leste, through the CTF, gained a sense of equality with its former coloniser; Indonesia lost the pebble in its shoe as it aspired to fill the boots of a being a regional power.

But such morally ambiguous deals do not negate the strategic reality that is clear now, a decade after independence; you really do need good neighbours to make a complex peace operation work. In the case of Timor-Leste, it took one with deep pockets and can-do spirit to the south as well as another to the west ready to leave quietly, do nothing and then overcome its enormous loss of face to want to try again to be best friends with the new nation over its back fence.

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

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