Lowy Institute

'They put knives on our throats and threatened to kill us if we resist,' the deputy captain of a Vietnamese-flagged ship told reporters after his oil tanker was hijacked earlier this month.  It was the twelfth hijacking attempt since April around the Malacca Straits, and the fifth successful attempt in the region in the past three months.

A report released this month by maritime intelligence firm Dryad found that Southeast Asia was the world's hotspot for maritime attacks in the third quarter of this year. While the majority of these were of lower intensity – robbery – the number is sure to worry shipping firms as the cost of their insurance premiums for operating in the region could be pushed upwards. 

According to Dryad, the total number of attacks (see the breakdown below) in Southeast Asia for the year to October 1 was 139. This compares to 51 in the Gulf of Guinea and 38 in the Indian Ocean. The International Maritime Bureau's piracy map, which charts all piracy activity for the year, shows particular activity around the Singapore Strait. The IMB has issued several warnings for vessels in the Singapore Strait this year.

It was in this strait between Singapore and the Indonesian island of Batam that a Vietnamese-flagged vessel was hijacked earlier this month. The hijacking of the Sunrise 689 and its 18 crew demonstrated the renewed dangers of piracy in the region. While the crew were unhurt, the pirates absconded with 2000 metric tons of oil out of 7200 metric tons on board.

The figures are disheartening because, after a peak of activity in 2000, over the last decade there has been a concerted and largely successful effort by Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore to engage in joint counter-piracy activity.

While the numbers are alarming, a breakdown show a lower intensity of incidents in the region, namely robberies over hijackings and attacks. But regardless, the funds from these activities go to supporting and extending criminality in the region. Profits from hijacking and maritime robbery has significantly increased the capability of insurgent and terrorist groups (think Somalia). Thankfully, joint counter-piracy operations have come a long way and with shared (indeed, global) interests in the straits any significant escalation will see a strong crackdown. The immediate impact is likely to be a stepping up of joint counter-piracy operations.


The Indo-Pacific is a strategic system encompassing the Indian and Pacific oceans, reflecting the expanding interests and reach of China and India as well as the enduring role of the US. The Lowy Institute's International Security program presents a weekly selection of links illuminating the changing security picture in this increasingly connected super-region.

  • Howard French in The Atlantic explores whether China's growing assertiveness reflects a rising power, or a government seeking legitimacy.
  • Taiwan's construction of a harbour on Taiping Island in the contested Spratly Islands is continuing.
  • A veteran Japanese diplomat, Hideo Tarumi, has reportedly been sent to China to continue talks on a possible meeting between Prime Minister Abe and Xi Jinping. 
  • Earlier this month, the US partially lifted its lethal arms ban on Vietnam. The Economist breaks down the events leading up to the reversal. Also, Joshua Kurlantzick at CFR has written a two-part blog post arguing that the US is making 'the right move'.
  • Nawaz Sharif's and Narendra Modi's visits to the US were very different, says Michael Krepon, but both were mired by the issue of Kashmir.
  • In a fairly underreported incident, a Chinese fisherman was killed by the South Korean Coast Guard last week.
  • Lastly, follow live updates on the student protests in Hong Kong from the South China Morning Post.

The Lowy Institute International Security program's work on Indo-Pacific security is supported by two grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.


Prime Minister Abbott made headlines this week with his promise to 'shirtfront' Vladimir Putin when he arrives in Brisbane next month for the G20 summit (here's an explanation of that Australianism, and above is a famous example from 1989). Previously, the Government had flirted with the idea of trying to ban Putin from the G20 over Russia's role in the downing of MH17, but that has now been ruled out.

To discuss diplomatic shirtfronting (and BTW, Abbott has recently retreated from his aggressive tone somewhat) and other G20 Summit matters, yesterday I spoke with the Director of the Lowy Institute's G20 Studies Centre, Mike Callaghan. The Lowy Institute recently released Mike's G20 Brisbane Summit Form Guide: What Will Make the Summit a Success?


The smartphone in your pocket embodies today's cutting-edge technology. It is also a product of a global supply chain decidedly old-school in the way it shares rewards.

Two brands, Apple and Samsung, scoop over 100% of the profit pool (the other brands are losing money, giving them negative profit share). Despite all the commotion around their new product launches, they represent only one-third of total smartphone volume. Most consumers can't afford them, so they buy standard products at $100 or even $50. These devices (and Apple iPhones too) are assembled in Chinese factories at negligible profit. Despite China dominating production, its brands together receive only 17% of the industry's $300 billion in revenue, about half that of what Apple and Samsung each pocket. A few other foreign suppliers making semiconductors and other components quietly make huge profits off every smartphone sold.

With 1.2 billion devices sold annually, practically the entire human adult population owns a smartphone, or soon will. Like generic medicines, the ubiquitous device is a stunning example of the democratisation of affordable technology. It is also, from a Marxist perspective, a scourge of winner-take-all capitalist imperialism.

That such a large and important industry is so asymmetrical, with so few winners, raises questions. Why can just a few companies make such extravagant profits while no-one else can? Why are Chinese companies pursuing their profitless existence? How do they survive? And what does Beijing think about all this?

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Apple and Samsung are profitable because their prices are higher. Scale helps but is no guarantee of continued success: Nokia once owned the market, and blew it. Because everyone uses the same components and design concepts, the product differences are subtle. The Chinese phones are catching up quickly and eventually the smartphone, like the PC, may 'commoditise'. Consumers pay mostly for the brand, a lazy habit reinforced by Apple and Samsung's vast advertising budgets. For now, they are runaway winners, but their profit margins and market share will erode. They might stumble, as many have before.

The prospect of Apple or Samsung tripping up keeps Chinese companies in the game. The biggest have grown to dominate their home market and have ambitions overseas. Some, like Xiaomi, are genuinely innovative. The Chinese rule manufacturing too. Still, despite working so hard, they scrape out only a 2-3% margin, at best. The domestic market is a bloodbath; everyone aspires to the big league and to outlast the others, ensuring a slow, painful shakeout of the 100+ Chinese players. Exports are more profitable, so lesser-known firms are shipping to India and Africa in amazing quantities, tens of millions of units per year.

It has been observed by trade economists that China captures little value in the total price of an iPhone, with most of the wealth going to Apple itself and other foreigner corporations. Naturally this irks Beijing, all the more so because Chinese consumers love Apple's brand, a fetish ridiculed by the state media. There is a not-so-subtle campaign to wean local consumers from foreign wares. Samsung, facing a 'China storm', already manufactures in Vietnam. In recent times Apple, generating 60% of its incremental growth from China, has been attacked and its service and its security questioned. Beijing has also been slow to certify Apple for its Chinese carriers.

The main alternative to Apple is a phone running Google's free Android operating system. Android runs 80% of all smartphones and is rampant in emerging markets. Chinese consumers and manufacturers have settled quickly for Android too, but Google's dominance doesn't sit well with Beijing. It plans an indigenous 'patriotic' alternative called the China Operating System.

China may also target lucrative foreign parts suppliers, as it did in cars. Three-quarters of a Chinese-made smartphone's cost are components made by foreign companies, some of which are dominant and outrageously profitable. Beijing's greatest test of wills is against the powerful US semiconductor maker Qualcomm, which earns half its revenues in China. True to form, the chip business is close to a duopoly: Qualcomm and Taiwan's Mediatek dominate. China has its own semiconductor ambitions and is trying to build up a homegrown chip-maker with Intel's help to rival the pair. Qualcomm demands an average 3% IP royalty on the price of every smartphone (even those running MediaTek chips), and more from some Chinese companies. Obviously, with 1-2% profit margins, such a levy would destroy them. So Beijing has blocked all Chinese smartphone makers from paying, while condemning Qualcomm for monopolistic behaviour and for ripping China off: 'You're making money in China and you're hurting China. We won't allow that to happen.'

Qualcomm's lockhold on wireless technology has annoyed many, not just Beijing. Qualcomm has repeatedly tangled with both competitors and customers, and it has a separate ongoing dispute with Huawei over cross-licenses. Beijing uses rough counter-tactics, especially against IP owners. Effectively, Beijing is shielding its companies from some IP costs that Apple and Samsung are paying.

For now, this policy is creating a segregated marketplace: a royalty-lite zone in China, another in emerging markets where IP enforcement is impossible, and another in developed countries where Qualcomm might block infringing Chinese phones with import injunctions. Because they want to export to the US and EU, some Chinese firms are now building up their own patents. Lenovo bought Motorola for that reason. Elsewhere, however, Chinese brands could overrun the world market, hiding behind Beijing's industrial policy bastion. They will face other challenges but if they succeed the global landscape will look very different within three to five years.

What we see in the smartphone industry is another example of Beijing quietly pressing the scales in favour of its companies, 'leveling the playing field.' The smartphone is likely to be with us for many years. China is determined to be a big part of that future.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Caleb and Tara VinCross.


An IS fighter in the town of Kobani, 7 October. (REUTERS.)

With the air campaign appearing to have little effect on Islamic State (IS) so far, it seems the US-led coalition is switching to a new strategy: name-calling.

This week John Kerry referred to IS by its Arabic acronym Da'esh, although in the same remarks he also referred to it as ISIL. This follows the French decision to use Da'esh in preference to IS, which is the name the group has given itself. IS has gone through several name changes since the group first emerged in the mid-2000s in Iraq. The Economist and Ian Black in the Guardian provide good explanations.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius argues that the term Islamic State 'blurs the lines between Islam, Muslim and Islamists.' His personal preference is to use the term 'Da'esh cut-throats'. 

Kerry is yet to explain why he is using Da'esh, although he has talked about the importance of delegitimising the group's claim to represent Islam. Previously, President Obama has said that the group is neither Islamic nor a state, hence the decision to stick to the group's next-to-last name, ISIL.

IS, we are told, does not like the term Da'esh – so that's one good reason to use it. Apparently it has threatened to cut out the tongues of anyone heard using it, which, lets face it, is a pretty mild punishment by its gruesome standards.

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Using 'Da'esh' also avoids the argument over whether to use ISIS or ISIL. Both are the acronyms of the English translation of the group's next-to-last name, before it changed to Islamic State. So it is either 'Islamic State in Iraq and Syria' if you prefer ISIS or 'Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant' if you prefer ISIL. The difference turns on the last word in the name – in Arabic, 'al-Sham'. It can be translated as either 'Syria' or 'the Levant' (roughly, the eastern shores of the Mediterranean between Egypt and Turkey). Like any good orientalist I have consulted my trusty old Hans Wehr dictionary and it says Syria (but also Damascus).

None of this helps to answers the question of whether to use IS or ISIS/ISIL/Da'esh, underlining the success of IS's campaign to sow fear and linguistic confusion throughout the world.

I have to admit I have used all four without a lot of thought. I totally agree that the group does not represent Islam, but I am also sympathetic to the idea that you should call a group by whatever name it chooses for itself. A concession to both camps is to use 'Islamic State' without the definite article (ie. 'Islamic State' rather than 'the Islamic State').

But frankly if our strategy for defeating the group's ideas is based primarily on calling it names then we need to think of a new strategy.


Where can China's leaders find their ideas?” he [Yan] said. “They can't possibly find them nowadays from Western liberal thought, and so the only source they can look to is ancient Chinese political thinking.”




Good news out of the UK this morning with Australia's Richard Flanagan winning the 2014 Man Booker Prize for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Random House). 

It is a gripping read, based on Flanagan's father's harrowing experience as a Japanese prisoner-of-war on Burma's 'Death Railway'. Man Booker judges described the book as something that 'kicks you so hard in the stomach' it takes the breath away.

On Remembrance Day 2013 Executive Director Michael Fullilove hosted Richard at the Lowy Institute, reflecting on war, memory, the Australian character and the relationship between fiction and history. Michael and Richard held a fascinating conversation about Richard's motivations for writing the book, as well as the extensive research and twelve-year-long writing process. You can listen to the podcast here, or watch below Michael's short video interview with Richard.


The question of defining a 'moderate' rebel in Syria's civil war bedevils the US as it works to fulfill its plan, announced by President Obama on 10 September, to arm and train anti-ISIS groups in Syria.

The term 'moderate' is thrown around with gay abandon without anyone defining exactly what they mean by it.  And with good reason. It is first and foremost a relative and not an absolute term. Notice how often we write 'moderate' in inverted commas when using the term? Someone Riyadh considers a moderate could well be a raging Salafist to a Western audience, while someone considered a moderate by the West would likely be not sufficiently Islamic to placate many in the Gulf. This interview from April is a good example of the complexity of the Syrian battlespace and why the term 'moderate' should be considered extremely subjective.

But Western politicians of all persuasions would have you believe that a moderate rebel is 'someone that we can do business with', which is a rather vacuous idea, since you can only ever measure how moderate a person is when they are actually in a position to wield power. On the path to success, people and groups (particularly in the Middle East) are likely to say whatever it takes to get external support.

The proposition that Washington can find (or create) a group of 'moderate' rebels to back as part of its plan to degrade and defeat ISIS while not sowing the seeds of a future disaster is full of holes. A couple of issues spring to mind:

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First, the countries that have been mooted as possible training locations for the 'moderates' have their own agendas regarding Syria and are hardly liberal democracies, so it is reasonable to assume that they will seek to advance their own interests  and agendas (including the place of religion in society) while saying the right things about the need for an inclusive, moderate armed opposition. That paragon of moderation, Saudi Arabia, has agreed to host training for the neo-secular moderate opposition, and discussions appear to be ongoing regarding Turkey's role. President Erdogan's AKP is a modern Islamist party, and the President himself has been complicit (either by commission or omission) in the mess that is Syria by concentrating simply on felling Assad without giving any consideration to what to do when he didn't fall. 

Second, the US will have no effective control over the actions and equipment of these 'moderate' forces once they cross the border back into Syria. Why would any right thinking moderate commander do Washington's bidding when he knows that today's US liaison team will be rotated out long before the war is ever concluded? You can try to sub-contract the oversight to 'friendly' regional nations but the problem remains. You can't insulate the weapons, training and logistics support in such a manner that they only provide an advantage to the moderates and not the Islamists, who inhabit the battlefield in greater numbers. As this piece argues, so-called vetted groups' weapons and operations are already directly supporting al Qaeda-aligned Jabhat al-Nusra as well as Salafist groups under the Islamic front umbrella.

Even after the ISIS threat is addressed, there is still the question of what to do about Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamic Front and myriad other Islamist groups inhabiting the Syrian battlefield. None of them have fixed personnel rosters, and individuals can and do travel between them depending on battlefield success, resource availability, leadership disagreement or doctrinal differences. Some will undoubtedly find their way into the 'moderate' groups currently being 'vetted' for training in 'liberal' regional countries.

Trying to find enough 'moderates' to form a critical mass and then training them in countries whose governments have contributed to creating the Islamist morass in Syria in the first place will be near impossible, and will ultimately create the conditions for further instability. Only this time the West will have contributed directly to it.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Freedom House.


It was announced last month that Burma's parliament had approved President Thein Sein's request for the country to become a state party to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention. While in some respects a symbolic gesture, this was an important step that promises to close the book on a security issue that for decades has been mired in controversy.

Christopher Park, Deputy Head of the US Delegation, meets the representatives from Burma at the opening plenary of the BWC Meeting of Experts, 2013.

Burma's position regarding various biological weapons (BW) conventions has long been unclear. According to some sources, upon regaining its independence from the UK in 1948, Burma automatically became a state party to the 1925 Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare.

This view is based on the fact that the UK signed the Protocol in 1925 and deposited the necessary legal instruments in 1930, while Burma was still a province of British India. Thus, in 1948 Burma was deemed to have inherited the same obligations. No official authorities support this view, however, and Burma has never been listed by the UN as a signatory or a state party to the Geneva Protocol (as it became known).

In 1972, Burma signed the Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons Convention. This went further than the 1925 Protocol, and banned the development, production, stockpiling and acquisition of such weapons. It entered into force in 1975. The Burmese Government did not ratify the convention, but it acknowledged its legal responsibilities and even attended meetings in Geneva to discuss ways to strengthen measures against BW.

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After the dissolution of Burma's bicameral parliament in 1988 and the creation of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), some military officers claimed Burma had automatically become a state party to the 1972 convention. They felt that, as Burma then had only a single ruling body, it did not need to both sign and ratify such international legal agreements. One formal act of endorsement was considered sufficient.

This position, however, was not accepted by the international community, which pressed the new Burmese Government to ratify the 1972 convention. This pressure mounted as suspicions grew that the regime was secretly developing other weapons of mass destruction, and calls were made for Burma to accede to, or abide by, other multilateral agreements. 

Complicating the consideration of this issue were accusations that the SLORC had developed and employed BW against its domestic opponents. In 1993, there were reports of unidentified aircraft dropping mysterious devices, resembling white boxes, on Karen villages along the Thai-Burma border. A few weeks later, over 300 people in the area died after displaying symptoms resembling cholera.

In 1994, these claims were investigated by a team from the British human rights group Christian Solidarity International (CSI). It concluded that there was very strong circumstantial evidence that the SLORC had used biological agents against Karen villagers. CSI linked the 'attacks' to BW training reportedly given to the Burmese armed forces by Germany. 

CSI's findings were challenged by the Burmese Government, but the international news media seemed to accept them at face value. In 1998, the defence publisher Jane's went as far as to state, with regard to Burma, that 'a biological warfare capability appears to exist, a fact supported by various well-documented reports, including photographs of air-dropped weapons'. 

This assessment has been cited in several publications, including a few academic studies. Also, in 2004 one British MP (apparently misquoting a US think tank) stated that Burma 'probably' had biological weapons. Most analysts were more cautious. However, such was the reputation of Burma's military regime that its possession of BW became widely accepted.

A few activists also claimed that the regime was allowing HIV/AIDS to spread through Burma's frontier areas as a form of 'germ warfare'. In reports reminiscent of stories that used to circulate around Africa, it was said that the virus was being used not only to weaken resistance to military rule, but also as a way of eliminating minority ethnic groups. 

Some of these stories are easily dismissed. Without more information, the truth or otherwise of other claims is difficult to determine. However, the case for Burmese possession and use of biological weapons has never been very persuasive. 

No hard evidence has ever been produced of a Burmese BW program. Even the Bush Administration, which was highly critical of the military government and which had sophisticated intelligence gathering capabilities, never accused the regime of engaging in such activities. There was no strategic logic to the claimed attacks in 1993. In any case, it was unlikely that BW would ever be employed so close to an international border. 

More to the point, independent investigators, including the UK's Porton Down Defence Establishment, have been unable to confirm any claims of BW use. The 'white boxes' were found to be harmless radiosondes, routinely used in meteorological surveys. Also, in 1992 a virulent strain of cholera, unknown before then, was spreading east from India. This was considered the most likely cause of the deaths reported along the Burma-Thai border.

Granted, some questions surrounding these issues remain unanswered. However, the rash of reports in the 1990s about a clandestine Burmese BW program appears to be another example of activists and journalists seizing on unconfirmed claims and drawing dire conclusions, knowing that Burma's military regime was capable of terrible human rights abuses and assuming that it was prepared to do anything to remain in power.

In a message to parliament prior to the vote last month, President Thein Sein emphasised that Burma was the last member of ASEAN to ratify the BW Convention. He felt it was important that the country not be isolated on such an important matter. He also expressed the hope that ratification would 'head off any suggestions that (Burma) has or is developing biological weapons'. 

Whether the recent decision in Naypyidaw puts all suspicions to rest remains to be seen. Burma does not have an unblemished record of abiding by its international obligations, and doubtless there will be some who will remain sceptical of the Government's bona fides. Foreign governments and international organisations, however, will welcome this step as another sign of Burma's wish to be accepted as a respectable international citizen. 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user United States Mission Geneva.




Since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011, the US has lacked its own vehicle for launching astronauts. This hasn't stopped America from launching its own mini-shuttle without a crew.

The X-37B spacecraft is roughly the size of a small car. It has flown in space three times on classified missions. After roughly 22 months in space, it seems that the latest mission is preparing to come home.

What is this mysterious vehicle doing? Nobody really knows, and that's quite remarkable in these times. Legions of amateur boffins track classified satellite launches. They can usually work out the true nature of a mission by studying its orbit and assembling other pieces of evidence. Thus satellites that are designed to act as secretive eyes in the sky are normally unmasked quickly.

The X-37B is different. We know it is an experimental spaceplane that was originally owned by NASA before it was transferred to the US Air Force. We also suspect that there's something secret underneath the clamshell doors of its small payload bay. But we don't know exactly what it is or what it is doing. Open sources and technical analysis doesn't yield many clues. There has also been no 'leakage' of secrets through whispers and gossip.

There's obviously a lot of technical wizardry at work with this spacecraft, but the absolutely hermetic nature of the program is also remarkable. When so many secrets have been leaked in recent times, this is one program that remains steadfastly under wraps.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


The news that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the Australian Parliament next month is a welcome sign of how far relations between Australia and India have advanced. As the Australia-India Roundtable concluded earlier this year, and as Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently declared, ties between these two democracies have reached a new maturity.

It is fitting in every way that Mr Modi should speak to the Australian Parliament. He is, after all, the politician with the biggest democratic mandate in the world, given the scale of his victory in this year's Indian election. His worthwhile agenda to improve Indian governance, economic performance, science, education, development and strategic influence is in step with what Australia wants to offer India as a partner – as Indian public opinion broadly recognises, according to this poll. Hu Jintao, Shinzo Abe, and Indonesia's SBY, not to mention Barack Obama and George W Bush, have all had their moment to speak directly to Australia's elected representatives. In addition to China, Japan, Indonesia and the US, India is Australia's key Indo-Pacific partner.

And it would do no harm if Modi gave his address in Hindi. He is a brilliant orator in that language, and it would be a nice reminder to Australians that this is one of the fastest-growing languages in this country – and that the English language has no monopoly on democracy.

For all that, there is one aspect of Greg Sheridan's story breaking the news of Modi's parliamentary address that warrants correcting. The story emphasises the role of differences over nuclear issues in explaining why it has taken an outrageous 28 years for an Indian Prime Minister to get around to visiting Australia.

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In recent years, Australia's now-abandoned reluctance to consider uranium exports to India may well have slowed down relations – and does help explain Manmohan Singh's failure to show up at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth in 2011. But it is bending history to suggest that that Australia's condemnation of India's 1998 nuclear weapons tests was the reason Singh's predecessor, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, pulled out of a 2002 visit for an earlier CHOGM, at Coolum in Queensland.

As a diplomat in Delhi at the time, I well recall the effort on both sides that went into planning that visit, and the frustration when it was called off. There was just one reason for its 11th-hour cancellation – the violent riots in Gujarat, a state then led by Mr Modi as chief minister, and the need for Vajpayee to manage the domestic political controversy that followed.

There is a curious circularity, then, to the fact that Mr Modi will now take the journey that Vajpayee never made. But it is still very good that he is making it.

Photo by Flickr user Tony Abbott.


The central purpose of deploying strategic nuclear weapons on SSBNs, rather than on other less expensive and technologically demanding platforms, is to assure the survival of these weapons in order for them to conduct a second strike. The rationale is that assured retaliation will dissuade a potential adversary from attempting a preemptive decapitating strike, thus contributing to strategic stability.

Iskander Rehman questions the applicability of this logic in the context of South Asian regional nuclear dynamics and the Second Nuclear Age. From an Indian perspective, with flight times of missiles from estimated launch locations to possible targets being so short — just a few minutes — there is no chance of success for a 'Launch on Warning' policy. Having adopted a 'No First Use' policy, the survivability of India's retaliatory capability is crucial, which means it has little choice but to put a certain number of its missiles on SSBNs.

Nobody has made the case that Cold War policies and scenarios can be cut-and-pasted into the Indo-Pacific scene. But a credible second strike remains a deterrent for states contemplating a preemptive first strike as much in the Second Nuclear Age as during the Cold War, and it is certainly a stabilising factor. As one contributor to this debate has noted, land-based missile silos, launchers and airfields are more vulnerable than SSBNs, and this vulnerability creates instability by tempting a preemptive strike.

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As with any policy, there are challenges. Some include command and control, doctrinal and strategic development, engineering, design and quieting, and attaining and maintaining professional excellence and operating standards. But it would be wrong to assume that these challenges cannot be met, and cite them as destabilising factors. 

Impact of nuclear cruise missiles on stability

In an earlier submission, I mentioned the potentially negative impact on strategic stability of cruise missiles being deployed at sea. This is for several reasons. One is that the platforms (naval vessels) are dual purpose, in that they are also used for normal fleet operations and are thus equipped with non-nuclear weapons. This creates opacity and uncertainty in cases of encounters at sea between potential adversaries in conditions of heightened tension. Secondly, although technical measures can be built in to prevent unauthorised or accidental launch (as is the case with US Navy Tomahawks), launchers and control systems for the cruise missiles are often stored with the main non-nuclear armament of the platform, and such technical measures are likely to remain unimplemented. And thirdly, if the case of the Nasr tactical nuclear missile launcher of the Pakistan Army is any indication, the command and control of Pakistan's nuclear armed-naval units will be with the commander of the unit. Thus, launch authority can be delegated to a tactical level, lowering the nuclear threshold dangerously.

Pakistani strategy

Pakistan's apparent strategy is to rely on battlefield nuclear weapons such as the Nasr to counter superior Indian ground forces. The maritime domain has been added to this strategy, with the planned deployment of the nuclear-capable Babur missile at sea, ostensibly to counter India's naval strength. This provocative and risk-prone strategy is one which Iskander Rehman has appositely called 'nuclear brinkmanship'. 

Range of India's missiles

A few participants have rightly pointed out the short range of the K-15, currently the only sub-launched missile in India's arsenal. Quite obviously, to be an effective deterrent, India's SSBN the INS Arihant and her successors will need to be armed with missiles of at least intermediate ballistic missile range (3,000 - 5,500km). Until a missile with this range becomes operational, India's sea-based deterrent must clearly be considered to be in a developmental stage.  

While the deployment of specific weapons does have a significant impact, there are other factors that contribute to nuclear stability. The most important of these is the stability and maturity of the states concerned in the management of this capability. The India-China situation is not one to cause unease in the sub-continent at the present time. It is the India-Pakistan situation that is cause for concern, primarily because of the overriding influence and control of the Pakistani military in that country's political and security affairs. The egregious stratagem adopted by Pakistan, euphemistically termed 'sub-conventional warfare', promotes terrorist attacks periodically across the border under a virtual nuclear umbrella, and keeps the both countries constantly on the brink. 

Nuclear stability is a spin-off from political stability and depends on the will of both parties in any dyad to eliminate nuclear risks; this would appear to be the fundamental problem at present.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user My Past.


Could someone please explain to me where Justin Logan's argument is wrong?

The American foreign policy elite is obsessed with the Middle East. Despite President Obama’s rhetoric about a “pivot to Asia,” the United States remains bogged down in the region, now at war in Syria in addition to Iraq. What’s most perverse about all this is that the Middle East doesn’t matter. Washington would do better to leave the region alone...

...three fears have turned this small, poor, weak region into the central focus of U.S. foreign policy: oil, Israel and terrorism. Each of these concerns merits attention, but nowhere near the amount they have received over the last several decades. And certainly, none of them calls for the sort of forward-deployed interventionism both Republicans and Democrats favor.

Logan addresses each of these three fears. He says concerns about the oil supply understate the effect of market forces; moreover, an offshore US presence will deter the worst-case scenario of Iran taking over Saudi supplies. As for Israel, it is militarily secure and doesn't need the US military presence in the region; if anything, America's activism has made Israel less secure. And terrorism?:

The amount we’re paying now to fight terrorism—roughly $100 billion per year—is simply crazy. If someone ran a hedge fund assessing risk the way the U.S. government has responded to terrorism, it would not be long for the world. Indeed, it is difficult to identify how U.S. policy across the region—with the possible exception of some drone strikes and special operations raids—have reduced the extremely low probability of another major terrorist attack. If anything, our policies may have increased them.

A question for Australian policy thinkers: what is our chief obligation to our ally in this regard? Is it to offer support to US military operations in the Middle East as a show of solidarity and form of 'down payment' on help we might need in the future, or is it to persuade the US that it is making a mistake by focusing so much energy on the Middle East at the expense of Asia? If you had to choose between these two as a policy objective, which do you think would be more likely to advance Australia's interests?
  • Singaporeans are worrying about Ebola arriving through their heavily trafficked airport, but it is dengue that is the real killer in Southeast Asia at present. Cases of dengue fever in Malaysia were at their highest rates eve,r according to the Minister of Health, with almost 75,000 cases and 143 deaths this year.
  • Vietnam's economy maintains strong growth but the country needs more skilled workers, finds an Asian Development Bank report.
  • The captain of a Vietnamese oil tanker hijacked en route from Singapore explained his ordeal.
  • An excellent piece by Pavin Chachavalpongpun on Thailand’s corruption problem and how it is undermining Gen Prayuth's reform agenda and ultimately his tenuous legitimacy. In the wake of the King's illness last week, Pavin also explored royal succession here.
  • The Myanmar president has pledged to free 3000 political prisoners.
  • Michael Vatikiotis took a look at the region's murky democracy for New Mandala.
  • ISIS in Indonesia and how to combat it, according to Gwenael Njoto-Feillard.
  • An explosion, believed to be a grenade and related to gangland turf battle in Kuala Lumpur's busy tourist district of Bukit Bintang, killed one and injured a dozen.
  • A few new and notable books out this week: Sebastian Strangio's Hun Sen’s Cambodia, Mathew Davies' Realising Rights and ISEAS on religious diversity in Indonesia and Malaysia, .
  • Malaysia's 2015 budget was unveiled this week; here's the overview. Significantly, the troubled Sabah and Sarawak states are to receive 4.5 billion ringgit for development (likely with a security focus). 
  • Finally, with the ASEAN Economic Community set to be launched next year (albeit with a host of problems still to address), it's a good time to start looking at the combined strength of the ASEAN economies. Here's one infographic put together by ASEAN UP.

ASEAN market compared to EU, US, China, Japan and India