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On Kevin as Foreign Minister

By Alexey Muraviev 23 February 2012 Uncategorized No Comments »

by Graeme Dobell

Before the political firestorm consumes every ounce of oxygen in Canberra, let’s consider Kevin Rudd’s foreign policy performance.

As Foreign Minister, his work rate was prodigious. The ambition nearly as high. The self-confidence and the sense of conviction never flagged. The intensity was undoubted; only the ultimate intent was regularly questioned. This was the Foreign Minister of a middle power who ranged wide. Rudd asserted an Australian right to a voice over Libya and Syria with the same earnest involvement he brought to the big issues of the Asia Pacific.

Usually, a foreign minister is expected to have the confidence and backing of the prime minister. That could never be the case between Gillard and Rudd. Instead, Rudd stands with the handful of Australian foreign ministers who flew solo. The two that were most successful in this solo role were Spender and Evatt, which prompted a column early last year depicting Rudd as Evatt with a BlackBerry.

Rudd could never ‘do a Hayden'; he could not, ultimately, settle for being a fine foreign minister in the service of the leader who’d robbed him of the top job. Rudd was, indeed, a fine Foreign Minister, but he found it hard to mention his Prime Minister by name.

The personal tensions are so great, why did this strange arrangement hang together as long as it did? The answer goes to both policy and politics.

Politics first. Rudd served as Foreign Minister to Gillard from the moment she formed a minority government in 2010 until now because the hung parliament meant she needed his vote as well as his talent. Plus, the foreign ministry was part of the deal struck at the death of Rudd’s prime ministership.

Policy offers a broader and more interesting answer. Indeed, it is almost misleading to try to write of Rudd’s performance as Foreign Minister, starting after the 2010 election. As Prime Minister, Rudd was his own über Foreign Minister, and so it is possible to talk about the almost seamless and consistent nature of the foreign policy of the Rudd-Gillard governments.

In the great struggle that is now in the open (a set-piece battle in caucus to be followed by prolonged guerrilla war) foreign policy will hardly get a mention. That is because the Gillard Government’s approach has run smoothly along the tracks laid down by the Rudd Government.

Rudd’s deep duality on China – great understanding linked to dark doubts – has driven Labor thinking. The self-proclaimed ‘brutal realist on China’ even put a score on his emotions about China: 80% positive and 20% negative. Gillard journeyed to Beijing following the Rudd script, seeking ‘mutual respect’ and claiming Australia’s right to be ‘clear and robust’ in that conversation.

Gillard surprised some by embracing the US alliance with a fervour that matched that of enthusiasts such as Beazley and Rudd. The alliance continuum between the Rudd and Gillard governments has been more than seamless; it has actually built in intensity. On the alliance, even Tony Abbott can’t attack Gillard from the right, much less her now-departing Foreign Minister.

In the same vein, Gillard has stuck doggedly to the Rudd script on Afghanistan. The cracks are beginning to show in the Defence White Paper Rudd bequeathed to Labor, but this has more to do with equipment promises being mugged by reality than any significant Government wobbles.

Where foreign policy splits have appeared between Gillard and Rudd, they have been as much about personal positioning as policy difference: the snafu over the contract to run the international TV service (with the decision taken from the Foreign Minister and given to the Communications Minister) and the Gillard shift to sell uranium to India. Gillard overturned the ban that Rudd had maintained as Prime Minister. What was truly telling, though, was that the Prime Minister did the India deed without even telling her Foreign Minister. Gillard clearly did not trust Rudd enough to talk to him about a significant change in foreign policy; she feared Rudd might leak against her and the decision.

The India decision in November was a significant moment in the doomed dynamic between Gillard and Rudd. It signaled that basic trust and communication could not be maintained; that is a strange way to run foreign policy. Rudd was right to say in his Washington resignation speech that Gillard no longer had any confidence in him as Foreign Minister. All indications are that she was about to sack him.

So ends a strange period in the conduct of Australia’s foreign affairs. Clear the field – let battle begin.

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

Afghan a game of Russian roulette

By Alexey Muraviev 31 January 2012 Uncategorized No Comments »

THE US-led International Security Assistance Force has set a deadline to conclude the campaign in Afghanistan. After 2014, the level of foreign military presence will be considerably lower than current levels.

But the withdrawal of the larger portion of US forces won’t mean the end of US presence in the area. Nor it will be the end of Australia’s military commitment.

This comment was originally published in The Australian

Don’t ignore the voice of Fiji’s people

By Alexey Muraviev 26 September 2011 Uncategorized No Comments »

Author: Jenny Hayward-Jones

Politicians and political parties the world over dismiss opinion polls when the results are inconvenient and embrace them when the results show support for their policies. So I wasn’t surprised to see some of the reactions to the results of the Lowy Institute’s Fiji Poll.

I was personally dismayed to see so many Fiji people support the performance of Commodore Bainimarama and the direction Fiji is on. Before the results came in, I was hoping the Fiji people would record overwhelming dissatisfaction with Bainimarama. But that was not the reality. 

Faced with these results, the Lowy Institute had two choices – publish or decline to publish. 

We are an independent international policy think tank so we did not have a vested interest either way. If we declined to publish and thereby reveal the opinions of the Fiji people, would we be any better than the Fiji Government, which denies the Fiji people the right to express their opinions or to have their opinions aired in the public domain?

When the Lowy Institute launched the Fiji Poll in Auckland last Wednesday, the first reaction from the assembled audience was that the methodology was flawed. The methodology of the poll is set out on p.23 of the Fiji Poll and I provide more information below. Tebbutt Research, the company we commissioned to conduct the poll, has been polling for almost twenty years in Fiji and the methodology used for this poll was consistent with their previous polling.

But an important question occurred to me afterwards: if the opinions of the Fiji people were different, if they had recorded 66% disapproval of Bainimarama instead of 66% approval, would we have been questioned about the methodology? If this had indeed been the result, I suspect the Fiji Government would have dismissed it but the Australian and New Zealand governments and other opponents of Bainimarama would have lauded it. 

A few other important aspects about this poll have been missed in the initial reaction. 

This is the first opinion poll conducted in Fiji since 2008 and the first to canvas the views of the Fiji people about Fiji’s international relations. Rather than dismissing it, as opponents of Bainimarama have done, why not seize on it as evidence that the Fiji people are interested in expressing their opinions, an opportunity denied them by their own government?

Some of the results are inconvenient to opponents of the Bainimarama regime, but not all are. As Michael O’Keefe pointed out in an opinion piece in The Australian, there is some positive news in the poll that cannot be ignored. What about the 98% of people who say they think it is important to have the right to freely vote in national elections, the right to freely express yourself and the right to a fair trial? What about the 96% of people who say it is important to have a media free from censorship? 

Should we be dismissing these opinions as those of a fearful and intimidated people whose views cannot be trusted or should the international community try to assist them? As Prime Minister Gillard said, this is a question about values and whether you believe in democracy. Our poll presents clear evidence that the Fiji people do believe in democratic values; they do not deserve to be summarily dismissed.

From Australia’s point of view, should we write off the 76% of people who want Fiji to have a good relationship with Australia or should the Australian Government try to capitalise on this strong support for Australia?

It has been suggested by no less than Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa that the Fiji people were too afraid to speak against Bainimarama. I have to admit that I thought exactly the same thing when I saw the results. It perplexed me that, despite Fiji’s economic malaise, increasing poverty and the Public Emergency Regulation which suppresses people’s rights, the Fiji people were still willing to say Bainimarama was doing a good job. I thought fear must be the explanation. 

But if this was the case, why did only 1% of respondents refuse to answer and only 1% say they did not know? Furthermore, the people who participated in this survey were not advised that it had been commissioned by the Lowy Institute so they did not necessarily know the results would be published. And lastly, while an approval rating of 66% seems high, it is still lower than the 73% approval rating (in a poll conducted by Tebbutt Research using the same methodology used for the Lowy Institute Fiji Poll) that Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase achieved in June 2006. Bainimarama is less popular after five years in power than Qarase was after a similar period, a result which Fiji’s SDL party can celebrate.

Rather than attack the methodology or the motivations of the Lowy Institute and Tebbutt Research, it would be more constructive for Bainimarama’s opponents (of which I am one) to debate why the Fiji people hold the opinions they hold. Do these results reflect the lack of information available to the Fiji people? Do they reflect the media censorship which controls the flow and quality of information and the lack of freedom of speech imposed by the Public Emergency Regulation, which means opposing voices are not heard in the public domain? Do they reflect lower public expectations of government brought about by a series of coups?

There is surely a case for greater civic education efforts in Fiji – by non-government organisations and by the international community. The poll shows that the Fiji people are less willing to approve of the military playing a permanent role in politics than they are of the military’s current role, and they are not entirely convinced the Fiji Government is making progress in moving the country back to democracy. This shows a people thinking about their situation and what is in their best interests. To ignore them would be a missed opportunity.

Poll methodology

The methodology of the Poll is explained on p.23 of the publication but a summary and further information is provided here:

The poll was conducted by Tebbutt Research, a Suva-based company which has conducted polling in Fiji since 1992, published annually in conjunction with the Fiji Times. The Lowy Institute reported the results of the poll. The results are the views of the people of Fiji, not the opinions of any member of staff of the Lowy Institute, nor any member of staff of Tebbutt Research.

The Lowy Institute has a strong reputation for high quality opinion polling, having conducted 7 annual opinion polls on foreign policy in Australia and an opinion poll in China on foreign policy.

As with all opinion polls commissioned and published by the Lowy Institute and opinion polling conducted by Tebbutt Research in Fiji, participants in the survey were not paid a fee. Interviews were conducted face-to-face in the major urban and peri-urban centres of Viti Levu, consistent with previous polls conducted by Tebbutt Research. Fieldwork was conducted by the Tebbutt Research field team in accordance with global best practice, specifically the ESOMAR standard.

1,032 people were interviewed on a face-to-face, door-to-door basis, with one respondent aged 18+ per household. Start points were selected at random. Respondents were selected at random and respondents were selected at random from within the household, to quota. Data was post-weighted to the Fiji Bureau of Statistics population estimates. 

The breakdown of respondents was:

  • Ethnicity: 48% indigenous Fijian, 44% Indo-Fijian, 8% other.
  • Gender: 51% males, 49% females.
  • Location: 23% Suva, 25% Nasinu, 5% Lami, 15% Nausori, 12% Nadi, 15% Lautoka, 5% Ba.
  • Age: 18-20 (12%), 21-29 (23%), 30-44 (33%), 45+ (33%).
  • Education levels: no formal education 2%, primary school 11%, middle high (10-11 years) 13%, upper high (12-13 years) 32%, technical or trade school 21%, some university 14%, university degree 7%.

The Lowy Institute has presented the results of an opinion poll of the Fiji people and has not manipulated them in any way. 

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

AUSMIN puts icing on the alliance cake

By Alexey Muraviev 26 September 2011 Uncategorized No Comments »

Author: Rory Medcalf

The big annual AUSMIN meeting, where Australia’s defence and foreign ministers get together with their US counterparts, has just concluded in San Francisco. This year’s talks marked the 60th anniversary of the Australia-US alliance, and the communiqué is rich birthday fare.

The document rewards close reading. Tightened cooperation on cyber security is being sold by both governments as the big deliverable, since the anticipated breakthroughs on US access or basing are still being negotiated. But that is just the icing. As with last year’s communique, this cake has many layers. Here’s a quick taste.

Reaffirmation of the alliance

Goes without saying, one might think. But the language this year is exceptionally strong: ‘an anchor of stability’, ‘shared values’, ‘proud and deep relationship’, a ‘storied tradition’ (nice turn of phrase), ‘adapting and innovating to face the challenges of the 21st century’. Whatever the dire prognostications of one school of commentary, the alliance is stronger than ever – and this is at least as much what Australia wants as what America needs.


We all know that very much of this is about China. But the language on China is sensible and balanced. There is a renewal of messages about seeking partnership, emphasising common interests and the need for continuous communication between militaries to prevent misunderstanding and crisis – a widely-repeated refrain this year.

Connecting the spokes to include South Korea and India

The document is a resounding endorsement of the emerging web of security links between US allies and partners. The US-Australia-Japan trilateral dialogue is still touted as the most important of these. But there is newly-forthright support for what would seem to be four-way ‘training and integration’ among the US, Australia, Japan and South Korea to deal with dangers and provocations posed by North Korea.

And note the tantalising language on relations among Australia, the US and India: ‘Identify areas of potential cooperation between the United States, Australia and India, including maritime security, disaster risk management and regional architecture’. Could this be the first hint of new trilateral process among the three key democratic players in the Indian Ocean? My chapter in this year’s just-released Strategic Asia volume has some thoughts on this score.

Missile defence

As with the 2010 communique, the odd and cautious language is code for: ‘It’s a bit frustrating — the Australian defence establishment is really interested in connecting with the missile defence architecture of the US and its allies, but resistance within parts of the Labor Party remains a problem’.

South China Sea

These are firm messages. The two countries not only declare their national interest in freedom of navigation in these contested waters, they also say that they ‘oppose the use of coercion or force to advance the claims of any party or interfere with legitimate economic activity’. Not ‘condemn’, ‘reject’ or ‘deplore’, but ‘oppose’. Opposing is an active posture. It means that one day words might need to be translated into action.

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

Paul Dibb on China’s military rise

By Alexey Muraviev 19 August 2011 Uncategorized No Comments »

Author: Sam Roggeveen

I’m sympathetic to Paul Dibb’s broad point that commentary about China’s military build-up is a bit overwrought, though when he closes his recent op-ed by saying that we should not ‘frighten ourselves to death by drumming up the next military threat to Australia and basing our defence policy on the likelihood that we are going to be attacked by China’, he’s probably guilty of constructing a straw man. The debate has not become quite that feverish.

A few specific comments about Dibb’s piece:

  1. Why, in making the case for China’s military inferiority over the US, does Dibb focus so heavily on nuclear weapons? Would a larger Chinese nuclear arsenal change the overall strategic balance with the US very much? Would it give China a much greater ability to throw its weight around in the region? I tend to think the answer on both counts is ‘no’, which suggests China’s small nuclear arsenal is not a good indicator of its overall strategic weakness.
  2. Dibb’s description of Chinese conventional military weaknesses is more telling, but China doesn’t have to be America’s global equal or even to match the US in the Pacific. To change the regional strategic status quo, all it needs is the ability to challenge US control of the sea, and it is well on the way to doing that.
  3. Dibb dismisses China’s nascent anti-ship ballistic missile capability by pointing out that ‘the US has the capability, with prompt global conventional strikes, to seriously damage China’s command and control.’ This implies US strikes against the Chinese mainland, which has some serious implications for escalation control.
  4. Dibb’s reminder about China’s ‘deep structural problems’ and ‘profound governance and social deficiencies’ is timely, but does he suggest that we should bank on these weaknesses when designing our own strategic plans? Is it wise to assume that China will falter?

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

An attempt to define ‘strategy’

By Alexey Muraviev 19 August 2011 Uncategorized No Comments »

Author: Hugh White

Rodger Shanahan is having problems with the phrase ‘civilian strategist’. Perhaps that’s because he’s looking too hard at the adjective and not hard enough at the noun. Let’s work out what a strategist is, and then worry about the ‘civilian’ bit later.

If we start by agreeing that a strategist is someone who does strategy, we have to then decide what ‘strategy’ means. Do not expect a simple answer. The great philosophical logician Humpty Dumpty spoke truly when he said, ‘My words mean whatever I want them to mean’. We can and do use ‘strategy’ to talk about all kinds of things. So the best one can do is to explain how one uses the word oneself, and hope that helps to make things clearer.

My use of the word ‘strategy’ derives from my understanding of the nature of war. For me, war is organised violence conducted for a political purpose. Strategy is the bridge between them – between the organised violence, which is the means, and the political purpose, which is the end. The relationship between violence as a means and political outcomes is inherently complex. Perhaps that’s because it crosses the divide between the physical and the mental – always a tricky interface.

On this account, the central problem of strategy is how to match military means to political ends. The core strategic decisions that any government has to face are (a) what military operations it should undertake to achieve its political objectives, and (b) what capabilities it should build to be able to achieve its political objectives in future. These are the big questions of strategic policy – ‘policy’ being just a fancy word for government decisions.

We – military, civilian, politicians and layman alike – very commonly get these decisions wrong, because we so often misunderstand the link between ends and means in war. Afghanistan provides an apposite case study. Mistakes happen at every point of the process; we muddle our objectives, mismatch objectives to means, and then mismanage the operations themselves.

Clearly, to make these decisions better, strategists need to know both ends of the link: they need to know about military operations and capability on the one hand, and political objectives on the other. And above all you need to understand as much as you can about the link itself – about the connections and disconnections between them.

If this is a useful way to think about the word ‘strategist’, we can turn now to ‘civilian’. What does one need to know to do strategy? Clearly I agree with the claim which I suppose Rodger to be making, that no one can call themselves a strategist who does not know a great deal about military operations and capability. I think most civilians who do strategy know far too little about these things. But no matter how hard they work, civilians will not know as much as military professionals who have been immersed in it from the start of their careers.

But equally, no one can call themselves a strategist (at least in my sense of the word) without knowing a lot about political objectives, and about the link between organised violence and political purpose. I think most military officers, even those of very high rank indeed, know far too little about these. And no matter how hard they work at it, any military officer who has spent the first ten or even twenty years of his or her career at the tactical and operational level will not know as much about these aspects of strategy as those who immerse themselves in strategic-level problems from the age of 20.

So we need both uniformed and civilian strategists, and they need to work together. The way to do strategic policy better is not for one ‘side’ or the other to claim a monopoly on strategic wisdom  and ownership of strategic decisions, but for both sides to educate themselves much better about all aspects of strategy, and to realise that both skill-sets are needed.

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

Europe calls Gates’ bluff

By Alexey Muraviev 27 June 2011 Uncategorized No Comments »

Author: Sam Roggeveen

By now you’ve probably read that retiring US Defense Secretary Robert Gates had some stern words for European NATO members late last week:

In the past, I’ve worried openly about NATO turning into a two-tiered alliance:  Between members who specialize in “soft’ humanitarian, development, peacekeeping, and talking tasks, and those conducting the “hard” combat missions.  Between those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of alliance commitments, and those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership – be they security guarantees or headquarters billets – but don’t want to share the risks and the costs.  This is no longer a hypothetical worry.  We are there today. And it is unacceptable.

Gates’ words are notable for being so blunt, but US presidents, defense secretaries and secretaries of state have been giving versions of this speech ever since Europe started cashing in on the post-Cold War peace dividend. And the reason European NATO members have for twenty years ignored these calls for greater sacrifice are right there in Gates’ speech.

On Libya, for instance, Gates says ‘the mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country – yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference.’ In other words, the US bailed out its under-resourced allies.

Then there’s this quote on America’s global military presence:

President Obama and I believe that despite the budget pressures, it would be a grave mistake for the U.S. to withdraw from its global responsibilities. And in Singapore last week, I outlined the many areas where U.S. defense engagement and investment in Asia was slated to grow further in coming years, even as America’s traditional allies in that region rightfully take on the role of full partners in their own defense.

Why would European NATO members feel under any pressure to take on a bigger role when the US seems so keen to do the job itself, and when they know the US will step in whenever Europe is caught short?

To be fair, the Americans have in some ways made good on their threats that they would not carry the NATO burden alone — US troop numbers in Europe have plummeted since the end of the Cold War. But it’s a measure of how secure European NATO members feel that this precipitous decline in the US military commitment to the continent has done nothing to change their defence spending habits. In fact the US is alone among NATO members in not substantially cutting its defence spending since the Soviet collapse.

Gates complains that European NATO members can barely sustain their modest operations in Afghanistan and Libya, and he reads this as a lack of will. But maybe European governments simply see the threat differently. They simply don’t regard these two operations as being important enough to their security to really do anything about them, beyond their current meager efforts.

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

Burma and Libya: The politics of inconsistency

By Alexey Muraviev 27 June 2011 Uncategorized No Comments »

Author: Andrew Selth

Lord Palmerston said nearly 200 years ago that countries have no eternal allies or perpetual enemies, only eternal and perpetual interests. Whether or not this is true, one always looks in vain for consistency in the conduct of international relations. Burma-watchers have been reminded of this fact by the world’s decisive response to developments in Libya.

In February, the UN Security Council effectively invoked the ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) doctrine to justify military intervention in Libya. The UNSC referred the Libyan case to the International Criminal Court and the UN Human Rights Council endorsed an International Commission of Inquiry. President Obama later stated that ‘left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Gaddafi would commit atrocities against his own people. Many thousands could die’.

Burma activists were quick to ask why similar actions could not be taken against that country. After all, almost every criticism made of the Libyan regime could be levelled equally strongly at the military-dominated government in Naypyidaw.

Indeed, as one observer pointed out, ‘much of the language used in the [Libya] resolution has for many years featured almost word for word in UN General Assembly resolutions on Burma, and reports from the UN Special Rapporteur on Burma’.

According to opposition websites, people inside Burma watched in disbelief at how quickly the UN Secretary-General and Security Council acted after Qadhafi’s attacks on Libyan civilians. They contrasted this response with the consistent lack of international action to prevent military operations against unarmed demonstrators and ethnic minorities in Burma, which since the 1988 pro-democracy uprising have probably resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and forced hundreds of thousands of refugees into neighbouring countries.

Several commentators have since pointed out that the rare consensus in the UNSC supporting international action against Libya was most unlikely to be repeated in the event of a similar proposal to intervene in Burma. The political and strategic circumstances — China’s national interests in particular — are quite different. Nor would ASEAN endorse an armed attack against a fellow member. There are also questions over the feasibility of an extended multinational military operation against a country like Burma, particularly if it were opposed by regional countries.

Another critical difference between Libya and Burma — one that has been noted by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi — is that the Libyan armed forces are divided in their loyalties. Despite regime fears that the Middle Eastern ‘contagion’ might spread to Burma, prompting censorship of the protests in the local news media, there have been no signs that significant elements in the Burmese armed forces are ready to back the opposition movement and bring down the hybrid military/civilian government that was installed earlier this year.

Some Burma activist groups have condemned the uneven application of the R2P doctrine as blatant hypocrisy by Western countries devoted to their own narrow interests. Yet, there have always been inconsistencies in the Burma policies of both national governments and international organisations. For example, Burma is currently the target of wide-ranging sanctions that are aimed at few other countries, despite the fact that many — including a number in Asia — also have authoritarian regimes and long records of human rights abuses.

Such anomalies have rarely been questioned — at least not openly. In a recent Nelson Report, however (not online), Georgetown University’s David Steinberg asked why US sanctions against Burma are far harsher and more extensive than those levelled against North Korea. Pyongyang poses a much greater strategic threat to the US — and the wider world — than Naypyidaw. And the situation inside North Korea — in terms of undemocratic governance, human rights abuses, political prisoners, restrictions on civil society and economic mismanagement — are all far worse than in Burma.

There are good reasons for the US to be concerned about Burma, but singling it out for exemplary punishment seems to disprove Palmerston’s dictum. For, as US Senator Jim Webb in particular has argued, Burma still engages US national interests. It occupies a sensitive geostrategic position between the nuclear armed giants of India and China. It is a member of ASEAN and plays an important role in the management of several transnational problems. Burma has also developed a defence relationship with North Korea which probably includes ballistic missile sales and possibly even illicit transfers of nuclear technology.

Senior US officials have privately conceded that the main reason for the inconsistency in approach is Aung San Suu Kyi, whose influence on US policy makers has been profound. As Steinberg has also observed, had she not risen to global prominence and captured the popular imagination, it is likely that the US — and other Western countries — would have felt less constrained in considering a wider range of policy options towards Burma. As things currently stand, Washington is unlikely to make any significant changes to its Burma policy without first considering The Lady’s views.

All other considerations aside, this fact alone, that one albeit remarkable person can have such an effect on the foreign policy of the world’s most powerful country, underlines the futility of looking for consistency in the conduct of international relations.

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

Is Australia serious about its defence?

By Alexey Muraviev 27 June 2011 Uncategorized 1 Comment »

Author: Jim Molan

I opened up a line of discussion prompted by Dr Ross Babbage’s article on the problems with Australia’s defence policy after the last budget. I repeated comments by others that the ADF was an ‘Aspirational Defence Force‘ and I specifically mentioned the JSF; that it was late, over budget and not meeting its promised performance. I complained about the lack of discussion on defence policy out of the last budget and concluded by asking if, in relation to defence, Australia was a serious country.

Since then, much has happened.

Many have contributed posts on the defence issues raised, a significant Lowy paper on an alternative defence policy for Australia by serving US Colonel John Angevine has been published, further issues have been raised in the media about the ability of Australian defence industry and the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) to produce destroyers and submarines in Australia, and a new Defence leadership team has been announced.

First, I would like to answer the posts provoked by my original writing, and in a later post address the alternative defence policy raised by Colonel Angevine.

Andrew Davies suggests that, for military campaign reasons, the JSF can still be effective, despite it being late and over budget, and Sam Baartz joined on the issue. Andrew speaks with authority, but Eric Palmer takes him on in detail.

This is an extraordinarily esoteric subject and it is very hard for we aviation laymen to assess public briefings on the JSF with the information put out by those opposed to the JSF. It is of overwhelming importance that the JSF be effective when it does come into service, regardless of how late it is or how expensive it is. I base my personal assessment of the JSF on its ability to work together within an Australian joint force under Australian joint commanders to achieve Australia’s strategic outcomes, which probably involves winning.

If our base concept is that we buy single capabilities and assume that they will always work with the US as single capabilities, then we might as well adopt Marcus Burke’s market-based approach. Cut out the middle man in defence (Australia), pay the US for our defence, as Marcus suggests, and lose our sovereignty altogether.

Nigel Brock asks if we are paying enough attention to the advantage that training gives the ADF, implying, I think, that even if we did not have the best materiel, the ADF could still win. I can understand this view, and it is an important question, but very hard to answer simply. If you embrace a myth of the tri-service digger and delude yourself, you are riding for a fall.

In my view it is a betrayal of every Australian to base a defence policy on inadequate equipment but hoping that the quality of our soldiers will pull us through.

I have also deep concerns about the ability of Australia to fight as a joint force, even with the equipment we have, because we rarely practice. I also do not see us producing senior joint field commanders of skill and experience to command the manoeuvre of joint forces, even if we had them. We have deep problems in this area.

Yes, our special forces fight very well indeed, because they are about the only force in the ADF allowed to train for war. I know that my concerns are shared by many senior serving officers, at least in the Army.

Peter Layton asks: if there are these problems, is it not all my fault because I was part of the senior command team for years? A fair question. My conscience is clear, however, in that when I was serving I raised these issues continually and with force. Since I have retired I have done the same. I believe in Constructive Subversion. The major share of the fault must go to the successive governments that have failed to fund their own defence policies, not to the ADF.

The ADF over the last 40 years have done brilliantly with the crap materiel that we have had to work with in just maintaining basic skills.

Marcus Pfister asks if we could man the equipment, even if we did have it. If you have to pay commercial rates for manpower, then you pay them. Why pay billions for submarines and then not have them work because of some outdated view that Defence should not pay full commercial rates for its manpower? Every time we pay something that gets closer to commercial rates, our recruiting and retention gets better. We are not competing for 18 year-old riflemen, so pay them on a different scale.

Once they get to the five or ten-year mark, we are competing with their family, so pay them more. We are competing with industry for marine engineers so pay them whatever it takes. The aim is to be prepared to defend Australia and there is nothing more useless than a submarine that does not work, or a cockpit that is empty.

Charles Lockyer supported my views and I was chided in a private email for my comment that the retired community was deathly quiet on the issue. My correspondent pointed out that many do fight the good fight, and that is right.

The only good thing that has happened to Defence since I wrote the original post is the announcement of the new Defence command team. But no matter how good they are (and they are good), if there is no money from Government for materiel or for training, they cannot, through dedication or resolution or force of will or some kind of ANZAC spirit, create the sinews of Defence. Government is responsible for defence, and I think it has two main aims in this area: minimise political embarrassment and save money for other objectives.

I will still be very polite to every American I meet.

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

The Kurils: Japan needs to move on

By Alexey Muraviev 31 May 2011 Uncategorized No Comments »

Author: Alexey D. Muraviev

The 37th G-8 Summit in Deauville, France, gave Russia an opportunity to strengthen its foothold in the Pacific, and not just through a final go-ahead of the Mistral amphibious ships deal, which has become a stumbling block in the past two months or so.

A week prior to the Summit, a high profile delegation of senior officials, including Vice Premier Sergei Ivanov, Minister of Economic Development Elvira Nabibullina and Minister for Transport Igor Levitin visited what Japan describes as the ‘disputed northern territories’.

The purpose of the visit was two-fold: to discuss near and long-term development strategy of the Kuril Island Chain, and to send a clear signal to Japan prior to G-8 meeting — Moscow has made up its mind about the future of the four disputed islands.

As expected, the visit caused an immediate knee-jerk reaction from Tokyo by formal expressions of regret that Russian officials have once again inspected the alleged Japanese territory. This was likely driven by both domestic motives (the need for the ruling party to appease conservative voters) and by regional foreign policy considerations.

Japan’s uncompromising stance with its neighbouring great power over a territorial dispute helps it to retain its regional status in times when another residual great power, the People’s Republic of China, has overtaken Japan as the world’s number two economy and is being rather tough with Tokyo on a number of matters.

What is becoming quite clear, however, is that Tokyo, being more and more preoccupied with the PRC’s rise, might ignore the obvious position of the Kremlin — the four islands of the southern sector of the Kuril Chain will remain under Russia’s control.

After years of sending mixed signals to Tokyo, President Medvedev’s Administration has established a final view regarding this long-standing bilateral dispute. In 2011 alone, the federal Government has committed 16 billion rubles (over US$571 million) to support infrastructure upgrades and improved living conditions for local communities.

Besides national prestige, Russia’s interest in the four islands is driven by both economic and military-strategic considerations. The economic value comes firstly from the potential of mining precious minerals such as rhenium and gold; deposits of the latter are estimated to be as high as 250 tons. Waters surrounding the Chain are also rich with fish stocks and other marine products.

The military-strategic value of the islands comes from their location. The chain, particularly its southern sector, acts as a defensive barrier to the maritime face of the Far East and the Sea of Okhotsk, an operational area for Russian ballistic missile submarines. Deep water channels between the southern islands are equally important, as they allow the flow of merchant marine and naval traffic (including submarine transfers) from Vladivostok to the open ocean.

Russia’s decision to upgrade its defensive posture around the Chain should send Tokyo another signal that the Russians have no intent to abandon their far eastern territories. Also, from the political-military viewpoint, Moscow continues to view Japan through the strategic prism of its balancing act against US military power in the Pacific.

Finally, for any decision-maker in Russia to make a territorial concession to Japan during parliamentary elections, which are being held in Russia this year, followed by next year’s presidential elections, would be committing political suicide, regardless of approval ratings or ruling party support.

Tokyo needs a reality check. The Yeltsin era bargaining game — ‘islands in exchange for investments’ — is over. No doubt, Russia needs massive foreign investment, particularly if it wants to shift its economy from being resource driven to high-tech powered. But strategic economic investment should not be mistaken for economic aid, which Moscow was desperately seeking throughout the troubled 1990s.

The Russians have a pragmatic understanding that Japan today needs them as much as they need it. Russia is playing a more and more visible role in meeting Japan’s energy requirements, an interdependence which will grow, post-Fukushima. Japanese companies are also moving their production to Russia: it is easier to nominate a Japanese car maker that does not have a production facility there.

The Japanese Government appears to lack a clear strategy on how to pursue its ‘northern territories’ agenda, which further weakens its stand in its discussions with Moscow. It would be surprising if many in Tokyo actually realise that returning the four islands is as feasible as seeing the US selling Alaska to back the Russians.

Perhaps the real value for Japan may come from having Russia on its side in its own balancing game against PRC. Recognising long-term strategic dividends over clearly unrealistic expectations that lead to dead-ends is the way forward.

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

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