Debate is becoming increasingly heated around the potential strategic implications of Australia's next-generation submarine. Last week, Hugh White suggested that Japan seemed to 'expect something close to a full-blown alliance' if their bid was chosen. This week, Michael Heazle said that might not be a bad thing:
So unless Australian security thinking dramatically changes over the next 20 years — that is, changes in a way that would make the prospect of sacrificing our relations with the US and Japan (also unlikely to change; see Brad Glosserman) in favour of China an attractive proposition — buying Japanese subs does not increase our risk of being entangled in a conflict against our interests. Buying Japanese subs will, however, further strengthen the interest-based commitment we have with the US, and by default also Japan; a commitment that successive Australian governments have kept over the last sixty years as insurance against precisely the kind of threat to our broader interests now being posed by an increasingly revisionist China. White's argument amounts to saying we should default on our house insurance premiums as soon as we smell smoke.
Stephan Fruehling talked about other examples of defence acquisition and strategic relationships:
It is worthwhile pointing out that both detractors and proponents of 'Option J' seem to agree that acquiring submarines from Japan would come with expectations of closer strategic alignment. The merits or pitfalls of such expectations are a topic in their own right, suffice to say that it is all too easy to slip into the tautology that acquiring the Soryu is good because it strengthens these links, and strengthening the links is good because it gives us access to the Soryu.
But how important is acquisition of major defence platforms for underpinning a strategic relationship?
The Interpreter's embassy series continued this week, first with a post from Lucinda Holdforth with an entertaining story from her time at the Australian embassy in Belgrade. Worth reading in full:
This meant a dusty old restaurant in the old town which served large slabs of meat and no vegetables. Luckily the wine was drinkable. The Minister had quite a party with him and I had my mum with me. He was keen on conversation, but was visibly annoyed by the noise of the colorful and energetic gypsy band. 'Make it stop,' he said. I went over to the band and politely but with some embarrassment offered money. They stopped alright, but 15 minutes later they started up again. I went back and paid again. And again. These people would do well when capitalism fully kicked in. My mum had a hangover the next morning.
Another post came from Milton Osborne about his time in Cambodia:
Most importantly, the villa was owned by Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia's undisputed leader at the time and it was said to have been one of his love nests. The fact that Australia was able to rent from the prince was a real mark of favour. Rental payments for the villa were made each month in cash, which I carried into the royal palace and handed over the prince's treasurer.
James Curran also contributed a piece on the history of Australia House in London:
In 1971, for example, Foreign Affairs Secretary Keith Waller believed that the case for a transfer was simple: he observed that 'a factor in the past was that Australians thought of themselves primarily as "British". Most now think of themselves as "Australians"'. The need, therefore, to 'mark our relations with Britain as something special...no longer exists'.
A popular post by Darshana Baruah on India's view of the South China Sea:
Yes, there has been a shift in India's maritime policies and this is likely to continue, but has India really reached a moment where it will play a more prominent role outside of the Indian Ocean? Although this is being debated by strategists in India and abroad, the incentives for India to engage in such an act are close to nil. More importantly, India may also be on the same page as China as far as freedom of military navigation is concerned. Whether India enforces its view as aggressively as China does is again debatable.
Japan's diplomatic and strategic competition with China may be warping its foreign policy, said Malcolm Cook:
From 2001-2015, Zimbabwe received no new Japanese aid. What has changed? Not the quality of Mugabe's leadership (for length and venality of rule, Mugabe stands at or the near the top of the global pile), or Zimbabwe's management of foreign aid. Rather, China's commercial and diplomatic push into Africa and Japan's desire to gain more global support for its UN Security Council membership push, which China steadfastly opposes, appear to be the main drivers behind the Abe Administration's embrace of Mugabe. It is likely that while Mugabe will benefit from Tokyo's warm embrace, Japan's long frustrated UN Security Council reform plans, the Japanese taxpayer, and the people of Zimbabwe (the supposed beneficiaries of Japan's aid) will not.
A terrorist attack in Lahore, Pakistan, over Easter killed at least 72 people. Claude Rakisits looked at the response from Pakistan's Government and security agencies:
The PM promised in a televised address that the government would take revenge. Accordingly, the response by Pakistani authorities was swift. In well over 100 operations conducted by all law enforcement agencies, over 5000 people were rounded up for questioning. While most were released, it does confirm the federal and provincial governments' determination to hunt down the culprits. But most importantly, Sharif wants to reassure the population that his government is on top of the situation and is winning the war against the terrorists.
Rodger Shanahan pointed out that it may be difficult for the US to explain the Syrian regime's recapture of Palmyra from ISIS:
The defeat of ISIS and recapture of a UNESCO world heritage site is to be welcomed, but that it has been done by the forces of President Assad, supported by Hizbullah, makes it difficult to craft a sensible reaction to the news. Certainly this US State Department spokesperson tied himself in knots (see the accompanying Youtube clip) trying to avoid saying whether the Syrian Government's re-taking of Palmyra was a good thing or not.
Priya Ravichandran on Myanmar's foreign policy:
In the future, Myanmar is likely to carve out a position from which it can balance the expansionist goals of China with investments in the country from Western and other Southeast Asian countries. To this end, Myanmar has already inked partnerships with Japan, South Korea and ASEAN countries including Thailand. Connectivity with India can help in creating a land corridor to India's north east, and further into India's heartland, which could greatly diversify the nature of trade.
A good piece from Helen Clark on internet censorship in Vietnam:
The story of the internet in Vietnam is an interesting one. Commentators treat the government as largely clueless, cackhanded and backward, the source of useless rules and halfhearted attempts to Facebook. Yet Vietnam’s internet usage grew so fast because of government-provided infrastructure. It turns out that while it had the hardware covered, the regime lacked insight on the cultural shifts this might engender; as it turned out, people did not just use net access for better education. Suddenly they could not only access information but provide it. Some of this was political but much was personal. In the mid-2000s, when the economy was going gangbusters, everyone also had the chance to express their thoughts and feelings to a wide, varied audience for the first time. It’s a trite parallel to make but, in the end, collectivisation didn’t stop at the farm.
Euan Graham asserted that China's policy in the South China Sea might be akin to an insurgency:
The insurgency parallel may not be welcome in the US, as counter-insurgency is not something that the West generally does well. Nor does it fit naturally within the maritime doctrinal toolkit. There may be something in the comparison for Southeast Asians, however. Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines have a great deal of combined experience in both insurgency and counter-insurgency; experience that far outweighs their naval and maritime strategic traditions. There could be indirect lessons to draw from, especially on the breadth and depth of effort required to counter China’s challenge.
Following Jeffrey Goldberg's landmark interview with President Obama, Shannon Brandt Ford followed up with a look at how the President views the use of force:
But Obama's reticence to use military force also has an important moral element. John Brennan (Obama's CIA Director) suggests that he and the President 'have similar views. One of them is that sometimes you have to take a life to save even more lives. We have a similar view of just-war theory.' The Just War tradition acknowledges that sometimes war is necessary, but it seeks to reduce the harm of war both by preventing its incidence and, where it does occur, by minimising the death and destruction it causes.
Andrew Carr reviewed former Prime Minister Tony Abbott's defence of his government's national security policy in Quadrant magazine:
Like Churchill in the wilderness, Abbott has spent his time out of office with a pen in hand, this time writing an essay for Quadrant magazine titled 'I Was Right on National Security'. Quite what Abbott thinks he is right about is hard to know. The essay is a defence of his government, but there are no major judgement calls which the current government has repealed or which are very far from the mainstream. Abbott says he 'was determined to advance our interests, protect our citizens and uphold our values around the world', but we are never specifically told what those interests or values are.
Anthony Bubalo suggests that arms sales need to be curbed in the Middle East, and also highlighted this interesting possibility in relation to France selling two Mistral-class warships to Egypt:
The story might not be so bad if it were just a case of Egypt wasting money that it does not really have on equipment it does not really need. What makes it potentially worse are reports that Russia is preparing to sell Egypt attack helicopters to use on the vessels.
The carriers may end up as bases for helicopter strikes in Sinai where the Egyptian military has already been making a hash of its counterinsurgency campaign by overusing heavy weapons.
But if reports that the purchase of the carriers was partly funded by Saudi Arabia are true, it might be that they are intended as transports for the mooted but yet unrealized plan to create some form of joint Arab force. Just what the Middle East needs now: more heavily armed troops floating around the region.
What are the domestic politics around Indonesia's South China Sea policy? Evan Laksmana:
For one thing, the inauguration of the Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) in 2014 did not resolve the overlapping and uncoordinated maritime authorities shared by over a dozen agencies. For another, Jokowi's elevation of the popular and assertive Susi Pudjiastuti as Fisheries Minister escalated the bureaucratic infighting. Some of her policies, especially the unnecessarily frequent detonating of foreign vessels caught and convicted of IUU fishing, have led to growing, albeit less public, friction with the Navy for example.
Hannah Wurf says that the future of the IEA rests on it acquiring new members:
In the short-term, the next steps for the IEA will be to implement and deepen the association agreements, and expand the number of association countries to include other key energy consumers that may not be ready for full membership. In the medium-term, the IEA will need existing members like Australia and many of the founding European members to agree to more radical reforms if the organisation is to stay an important player in global energy governance.
And lastly, Stephen Grenville on the Renminbi:
What are the implications for the global monetary order? Globalisation of the RMB is an element in the process of China becoming a responsible global stakeholder. In general, China has been a well-behaved participant. Avoiding depreciation during the Asian crisis was helpful for world stability. True, China's overly competitive exchange rate gave it an unfair advantage in its push into export markets early this century, but the inflation-adjusted value of the RMB has appreciated 30% since 2010 and is now generally accepted to be fairly valued (or even, perhaps, overvalued).
Photo courtesy of Australian Defence Image Library.