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Russia’s power ambitions in the Pacific

By Alexey Muraviev 22 March 2011 Uncategorized No Comments »

Author:  Dr Alexey Muraviev

On 9 February 2011, Russia’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced plans to deploy a pair of French built Mistral-class Amphibious Assault, Command and Force Projection ships to the Pacific maritime theatre.

For the first time in its history, Russia is acquiring a sub-strategic capability from a NATO member-state; this is a milestone in its bilateral relations with other European powers. The deal also allows Russia’s political and military elite to pursue several other strategic agendas, such as aiding its political maneuvering with Japan.

The announcement about future basing of the Mistrals was made two days prior to a Moscow visit by the Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, during which the problem of the so-called Northern Territories (four islands of the Kuril chain) was discussed. Russia made it clear that it has every intention of retaining control over the disputed islands. Moreover, in the past two weeks Moscow has announced plans to upgrade its defensive posture in the Kurils by re-equipping its forces there, deploying an air defence missile brigade, new generation surface-to-surface missile units and sending the Mistrals to the Pacific.

The lead unit of the Mistral class is expected to join the Russian Pacific Fleet in late 2013, while the second would be transferred sometime in 2014-2015. Altogether, the Mistral deal envisages construction of four units for the Russian Federation Navy, the first two by the French shipbuilder DCN and another pair by a Russian shipyard.This is not the first time France has assisted Russia in the development of naval power. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Russian Navy was one of the main clients of French shipbuilders.

Russia’s Pacific Fleet is acquiring a limited strategic power projection capability built around two helicopter carriers, which could also act as flagships of multi-role task groups. The Mistral class is capable of transporting a reinforced battalion-size expeditionary force supported by 16 helicopters. Russian variants will be more expensive (720 million euros for the first and 650 million euros for the second hull) compared with those acquired by the French Navy (pictured; approximately 500 million euros per unit). The higher cost is driven by modifications requested by the Russian Navy, among them a reinforced flight deck to accommodate heavier helicopters, and a strengthened hull to allow operations in the Arctic and north-eastern Pacific.

After years of decline, Moscow is getting serious about rebuilding its shrunken capacity to project power and defend the strategically vital Far East and Eastern Siberia. As in the past, the emphasis will be on restoring a potent naval capability. Besides the Mistrals, by 2020 the Pacific Fleet is expected to receive new-generation Borey class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (the first unit will be transferred in 2012), corvettes and frigates, followed by new-generation destroyers and aircraft carriers.

If this ambition is realised, together with its expanding energy export capacity and a strong foothold in regional defence markets, by 2030 Russia will once again manifest its status as a significant Pacific player with the muscle to foster its regional and global interests.

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

Australian National Security until 2025

By Salome Husselmann 18 May 2010 Community Relations No Comments »

Following are some comments on Dr O’Neil’s SF seminar presentation of 10 May 2010, by Norman Ashworth, Royal United Services Institute WA:

Dr O’Neil spoke of the need for a methodology for (International Relations) futurology.

Important though this may be, before coming up with such a methodology it is necessary to be clear as to the role of futurology. What follows are some initial thoughts on the subject
The purpose of futurology, in all fields, aside from being a pure intellectual endeavour, is to inform governments, corporations, individuals about the future so that they may make policy decisions, decisions that may help them to capitalise on future opportunities and avoid pitfalls. (Or, if not avoid pitfalls, at least to have the necessary tools to dig themselves out of the pit.). In other words, the end product of the futurology assessment must be tailored to the needs of the policymaker. At the same time, it must not encroach into the policy area with suggestion as to how any future situation might be handled.

For his part, the policy maker has to consider not only the possibilities for the future, but also the (political, fiscal, etc) realities of the present. As to the future, the policy maker may choose, unwisely in my view, to spurn the assistance of futurology and rely instead on his/her own reading of current trends. Or, he/she may seek the assistance of a futurologist to make a prediction of the most likely course of future events. This again, in my view, would be unwise, particularly for medium or long term forecasts. A more useful analysis of the future would be one that presented a set of alternative futures.

Expanding on this latter approach, I would suggest the following:
The timeframe for the analysis must be clearly stated.

  • The number of futures presented needs to be limited to five (or at a pinch 7) in order to keep the analysis to a manageable size. If it is too big it will overwhelm the policy maker, who may then discard the whole thing.
  • One of the futures presented should be based on projections alone, with no catastrophic events.
  • Each of the other futures should be based on trends, plus one catastrophic event.
  • Each future should be accompanied by an outline of events leading to it, and a list of the assumptions made along the way.
  • The analysis should conclude with a statement of the possible events, etc that have been excluded from the analysis.

Not only must any futurology analysis tell the policy maker what to expect in the future, it must within its argument convince him/her that the analysis is both reasoned and reasonable.

2. Futurology Mechanics
Mention was made during the presentation of trends and catastrophic events as being the drivers of change. I wonder how Dr O’Neil would classify the sub-prime crisis in the United States that lead to the recent global financial “meltdown”. Was it a “catastrophic event”, or merely a trigger that set loose a possibility that has been hovering for some time. Here I speak of the build-up of debt, at the government, corporate and personal level. Maybe a study of the underlying forces in the global political, economic and fiscal scene needs to be considered during any futurology analysis.

3. 9/11
While I agree that 9/11 did not “change the world forever”, it certainly changed the United States forever, and still lies at the heart of US policy on terrorism. Just as Pearl Harbor in December 1941 burnt itself into the American conscience, so has September 11, 2001.

4. Cyber Threats
No mention was made of cyber threats in the scenario as presented. I see such threats as not only a danger in themselves, but a potential driver in the political arena should such attacks be mounted.

5. Great Power Influence on Australian Policy
One idea put forward in the presentation was that Australia, as a middle power, is limited in the scope of its international policy options by the realities of our relations with great powers, particularly the United States and China. While not disagreeing that such pressures are present, and significant, there is a danger for Australia if we give too much weight to such pressures, and in so doing not try to challenge great power policies that may not be in our best long term interests. After all, the great powers do not possess all the wisdom, and do at times adopt policies that are not in the best long term interests of the rest of the world, including Australia.

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