Book Review: Ian Bremmer, Every Nation For Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World

By Ben Moles

A version of the below was first published by the Australian Army Journal and can be accessed here.

In Every Nation For Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World Ian Bremmer, President and founder of the political risk research and consultancy firm Eurasia Group, offers an insightful overview and useful guide for the general reader and armchair enthusiast of international affairs as to what he perceives being a fundamental challenge to the extant international system and explores the implications this will have on an uncertain future- a G-Zero World.

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Bremmer’s thesis paints a rather bleak realist portrait of an anarchic global environment and international system that over the next decade, and perhaps slightly beyond, will be problematically characterised by: a deficit in (US) global leadership; a lack of cooperation between states; and Institutional paralysis within major Global Institutions, in a world which at the same time will be marked by a shift in the nature of threats likely to face states, the emergence and rise of, predominantly, non-traditional security challenges that like globalization will transcend international borders. In essence, this is the world of the international relations realist, this is Every nation for itself.

Bremmer predicts that the problems inherent within the uncertain transformations of the current international system, an absence of (US) leadership being paramount and inability to cooperate being secondary, is likely to have a greater impact on the severity, magnitude and effects felt originating from these emerging non-traditional security challenges. In stark contrast to stability of the post World War II US led Western liberal international world order we have known up to this point, he contends, this will be a G-Zero World in a state of “tumultuous change”. Yet, what will inevitably be viewed as risks by some countries, companies and organisations will present opportunities for others; ultimately, choice, he asserts, is the key that will separate the Winners and Losers within it.

Every Nation For Itself is structured into six chapters and follows a progressive line of argument commencing with an explanation as to exactly what Bremmer’s concept of the G-Zero is. The second details a slightly long winded history of how we arrived at the G-Zero beginning at the end of World War II. The third assesses the impact of the G-Zero on diverse set of issues ranging from the global market and interstate/intrastate conflict to climate change and natural resource security before progressing to the fourth, highlighting what this will all mean for and how this will determine the Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World. For this reader, the most interesting chapter is the fifth, that asks ‘What comes Next?’ proposing, examining and evaluating four ‘likely’, plus one ‘wild card’, future scenarios that stem from it, concluding a fragmented ‘world of regions’ most likely. The sixth and final Chapter ‘G-Zero America’ is unquestionably aimed at the intended target audience of this book; those in the US, in particular those walking the corridors of power and a wider ‘Western’ audience more generally.

The message of this book is quite clear. Almost drawing a direct parallel to the choice the US was left facing at the end of World War II between “retreating into isolationism or expanding its power abroad” Bremmer subtly alludes to the point that yet again the US stands at a crossroad, but ‘Invictus’ style reassures the reader that the US is master of its fate, that, to quote Thomas Paine, “We [the US] have it in our power to begin the world over again”.

As enjoyable a read as Every Nation For Itself is there are a few criticisms worthy of mention. Firstly: Bremmer adopts a slightly romanticised, or at least extremely US centric view regarding both the success and benevolence of US global leadership/stewardship and the achievements of International Institutions/cooperation; neither of which particularly detracts from the quality of the analysis overall.

Nevertheless, following this point is a subsequent criticism. Because of the US centric view he takes, the main premise of the argument seems that at the heart of the problem (an inability to cooperate in face of emerging non-traditional security challenges) is a deficit in (US) leadership and that there in can lie its solution too. However, this argument could very easily be turned on its head: the key change isn’t necessarily a decline in (US) leadership exacerbating these challenges but the very different nature of these emerging non-traditional security challenges themselves (within a globalised environment), impacting on and leaving the concept of (US) leadership moribund.

Finally, the main criticism: In his introduction to the book Bremmer qualifies “This book is not about the decline of the West. America and Europe have overcome adversity before…Nor is this book about the rise of China and other emerging-market players.” However, this theme slowly but, as the book progresses, surely permeates from the pages so obviously that it makes the reader question the inclusion of the statement to the contrary at all to begin with. Despite protestations otherwise this book, all be it questioning off, is in fact thematically addressing the question surrounding the decline of the US and the rise of China.

Every Nation For Itself is an easy read and the argument is coherent, straightforward and simple to follow, this certainly isn’t a book furnished with scholarly terminology in which a degree in International Relations or Economics is a necessary pre-requisite. In recommending this book, I would add that in supplement and complementary to it, for those who have had their interest whetted by the themes Bremmer explores but are left wanting more, one should also refer to the US National Intelligence Council’s publication ‘Global Worlds 2030: Alternative Worlds’.

Ben Moles holds a Masters in International Security from the University of Sydney and is currently working for the British Foreign Office. He can be contacted at bwmoles@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bwmoles

It’s not the end, not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning.

Ben Moles.

In keeping with a running theme of this blog and pertinent to what follows, I decided to go with the above title to this opening post.

A few weeks ago I was asked if I would be interested in temporarily taking over the reins of International Security Discipulus, something I have happily agreed to do.

So, if you haven’t done so before, please check the blog out and have a read over some of the old posts, if you like it please help spread the word and if you have any suggestions for ideas that could make it better, or blog posts you want to get published yourself then please send them to me at bwmoles@gmail.com 

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What is International Security Discipulus?

International Security Discipulus (ISD) – is a blog publisher and networking platform for students, recent graduates, and interested others covering International Security and International Relations.

Why Blog? Australian Professor Hugh White, responding to ISD had this to say:

Yes, young scholars, do blog – but not just to get your name on the net.  It gives you practice in clear, crisp, concise non-scholarly writing, which is the kind of writing you need to learn. It sharpens your skills in debate on the big current issues, which are the skills you need.  And it helps teach you to give, and take, criticism gracefully, which is essential to anyone who intends to argue for a living.  But one word of caution: blogging is publishing, so always think very carefully before hitting ‘send’.

So, get thinking, get writing, get sending, and get published.

ISD is now accepting your blog submissions

The Kra canal: A dream one step closer to reality?

Ben Moles

Almost a month ago the Nicaraguan Congress, with little fanfare, announced that they had approved a proposal for the construction of a US$40 billion canal that would link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, a rival sea route to the existing Panama canal that if it comes to fruition, will mean the eventual realisation of a nearly 200 year old dream.

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Little fuss seems to have been made of this potential ‘game changing’ news either in the press or by analysts which surprises me, considering both the potential game changing nature of it and perhaps to a greater extent the fact that the company chosen to carry out the construction of the project (and whom have been granted a 50 year concession to build the waterway with an option of extending the concession for another 50 years once the canal is operational) is the Chinese Hong Kong based ‘Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Co’- an enterprise owned entirely by Beijing businessman Wang Jing.

Big news in itself, what really interests me in relation to this story is what this could mean for another centuries old canal project dream closer to home, one also linked to a Chinese push to construct it, and the serious game changing implications this would have strategically in the Southeast Asia region.

The Kra canal is a centuries old vision to connect the Pacific and Indian Oceans through and across a narrow stretch of southern Thailand. To some degree mirroring current geopolitics, the last great push for the project came during the 1930’s from the regions’ then rising power Japan. But influence and pressure on Thailand, or Siam as it was at the time, from the dominant regional colonial power Britain- fearing what this would mean for Singapore- and the onset of World War Two and de-colonisation that followed, ensured that the project would remain but a dream.

Concerns regarding the Kra canal have never entirely dissipated and have bubbled away beneath the surface ever since, with fears most prominently and recently highlighted under the George W. Bush administration. In 2005 a paper prepared by Booz Allen Hamilton (the same company contractor and ‘whistleblower’ Edward Snowden was employed by) for US secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld was leaked to the Washington Times, it stated:

China is considering funding construction of a $20 billion canal across the Kra Isthmus that would allow ships to bypass the Strait of Malacca. The canal project would give China port facilities, warehouses and other infrastructure in Thailand aimed at enhancing Chinese influence in the region.”

This paper formed the foundation for the ‘String of Pearls’ theory, the US proposition that China was seeking to strategically strangle India by encircling it with leased naval bases- the theory these days having largely been debunked as a myth, though some like James Holmes maintain the realist position that despite not being a threat now, don’t discount it not being the case in the future- an always impossible position to refute and pertinent to the point that follows.

There are no clear signs at present concerning plans to start constructing the Kra canal, or any new indication that China is pushing ahead or pressuring Thailand into negotiating approval for such a project. But the announcement of the approval for construction of the Nicaragua canal should make us stop and think about what the strategic implications for the region would be if the Kra canal ever was to get the go ahead- because, as the Nicaraguan canal announcement proves, what once seemed but a distant dream can fast become a reality, and potential game changing nightmare for some.

To name only a few of the potential implications stemming from the Kra canal getting the ‘green light’: Mainland Southeast Asia and maritime Southeast Asia would be physically divided by the canal symbolically splitting ASEAN members; Thailand’s troubled separatist south would also be divided and may further fuel domestic Thai ethno-religious security issues with potential spill-over effects a worrying concern for neighbouring Malaysia; the shift in maritime traffic from the straits of Malacca would mean certain economic ruin for Singapore and have a massive economic impact on Malaysia and Indonesia, again impacting and straining ASEAN relations; and finally Chinese perceived control or influence over such a pivotal sea lane and transport route (and massive potential choke point) would concern and trouble many in the region- in particular the US.

William J. Ronan, reflecting on the idea of a Kra canal wrote“…the whole project of the Kra canal is one which is capable of suddenly developing from rumour and speculation into a serious attempt to alter the present strategic and economic balance of the Far East.”

And so very well it would. That these concerns by William J. Ronan were voiced in 1936 and the realisation of a Kra canal hasn’t happened yet shouldn’t foster or allow for complacency that it won’t. Real consideration should be given to the fact that although it hasn’t happened yet it still could, and would be a serious regional game changer with wide reaching ramifications if it did.

Ben Moles holds a Masters in International Security from the University of Sydney and has interned for the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute. He can be contacted at bwmoles@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bwmoles

Book Review: Understanding China’s International Behaviour.

Ben Moles

On Friday night I attended the Lowy Institute’s ‘New Voices’ cocktail event at the Art Gallery NSW. Having been both a former New Voices attendee (2010) and Intern at the Lowy Institute (2012) it was great to meet both past and current affiliates of New Voices and Lowy and see that both, and International Policy in Australia more broadly, have such strong futures.

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The Key note speaker at the event, the recently returned to Australia, China Correspondent for Fairfax John Garnaut (a former New Voices attendee too) delivered a blinding speech summarising his experiences in China, reflections of which can be found here. Of the many issues he discussed the one that particularly found resonance with me was the gargantuan task he faced understanding how foreign policy is made in China. John made reference to the ‘octopus’ that is China’s policy apparatus and how difficult it had been at times to make sense of it all. Experience would eventually enable John to overcome this hurdle; for those seeking a slightly more immediate solution to understanding China’s International behaviour I have another suggestion.

Despite being a few years old now, one of the best reference tools for deciphering China’s international behaviour I found while completing my Maters degree was Evan Medeiros’ 2009 book by that very name ‘China’s International Behaviour’- a book review of which follows and that I wrote as part of my Chinese Security and Foreign Policy module I took back in 2011. I would encourage anybody with an Interest in China and China’s International Relations to read this book, which can now be down loaded for free from RAND here.

China’s International Behaviour: Activism, Opportunism and Diversification. Evan. S. Medeiros. ISBN 978-0-8330-4709-0 Santa Monica: Rand Corporation, 2009, 224pp.

China’s International behaviour comprehensively and objectively provides a frame work for analysis enabling the reader, from inquisitive enquirer to academic scholar, to understand and scrutinise the content, nature and implementation of China’s international behaviour. Medeiros provides both a framework and  the essential analytical tools necessary for understanding the Chinese specific approach that underpins China’s international behaviour, enabling the reader to examine ‘the end’, a Chinese policy, and trace and understand its origins and its creation process.

Medeiros’ main arguments are: that China’s international behaviour is inextricably interconnected with its need to maintain domestic stability; that China can accept the US as a regional hegemonic power and will not seek to challenge the US for the next two decades, however, will oppose US hegemonic behaviour when it conflicts with China’s defined core national interests. The purpose of this book is to inform US policy makers, evident in its final policy suggestions, that they need be cognisant of these considerations when formulating US-China policy.

Medeiros begins by detailing 3 historic lenses (National Revitalisation, a Victim Mentality and Defensive Security Outlook) through which China views its external environment and that has a significant bearing on how Chinese Foreign Policy is formulated and enacted. These help form a narrative that goes some way to explaining China’s five core national interests (Economic Development, Reassurance, Countering Constraints, Diversifying Access to Resources and Reducing Taiwan’s International Space) and the three guiding principles or China’s strategy for securing these interests (All round Diplomacy, Peace and Development and Harmonious World).

Medeiros continues by examining the expanding diplomatic tool kit that China employs to facilitate securing its interests (Economic Diplomacy, China’s Alternative Development Model, Leadership Diplomacy, Multilateral Diplomacy, Strategic Partnerships and Military Diplomacy). He then analyses how these, utilised in conjunction with the key determinate drivers of Chinese International behaviour (domestic stability, the three lenses, China’s five core national interests and three guiding principles), actually manifest into China’s Foreign Policy through analysing and examining China’s relations with regions and other states and international institutions and organisations.

Medeiros concludes by examining the challenges to both China, from the unique way it approaches the formulating of its Foreign Policy, as the subtitle of the book suggests through Activism, Opportunism, and Diversification, and the challenges which await the international community, in particular the US, as China continues its transition and rise. Medeiros observes and spells out for US policy makers that China’s International behaviour is a reflection of cost-benefit calculations which seek to secure Chinese core national interests. Despite these interests being fixed Chinese International behaviour is not, it is fluid, and as China ‘finds its feet’ as a rising regional power it is within this space that the US can assert its greatest influence on the nature of China’s rise.

Throughout, Medeiros presents a logical, methodical and objectively balanced argument, an aspect that can sometimes be found lacking from some of his North American counterparts as they grapple with, or are indifferent to, some of the specific Chinese historical and cultural aspects that help distinguish Chinese international behaviour from that of other ‘Great Powers’. His arguments are persuasive and are backed using relative examples to substantiate his points. On the occasional instance where a more subjective opinion is forwarded alternative arguments are offered to balance the position.

Furthermore, as well as successfully providing and demonstrating a usable and workable framework for examining China’s international behaviour explaining what China is doing and why, Medeiros should be commended for drawing attention to the important signal and message being transmitted from Beijing regarding what China is not doing despite being in a position to do so and why, examples include not pushing a ‘new security concept’ and not seeking a more confrontational US policy. Medeiros’ ultimate success rests in the reader’s ability to take a given Chinese Foreign policy decision or position, that might otherwise to an outsider seem unpredictable or erratic, and determine and understand the myriad of interests that factored into how (the process) and why that decision or position was arrived at.

Medeiros adopts a macrocosmic view of the actual policy making process, choosing to give a generic overview with the mentioning of specific leaders and drawing attention to the transition from ‘single leadership’ to ‘collective leadership,’ whereas a chapter or section solely dedicated to the microcosmic aspects of the Chinese Communist Party’s decision making process would certainly add an extra layer to his analysis and be of value to the reader. Adding to this point could be the inclusion of important International Relations theories and perspectives, a plethora of which exist amongst the growing number of important stakeholders that the collective leadership are increasingly accountable to (a good recent example of such work can be found in: David Shambaugh, ‘Coping with a Conflicted China,’ The Washington Quarterly 34:1, 2011, pp.7-27).

However, these minor absences do not detract in anyway from Medeiros’ worth as essential reading for those looking to understand China’s international behaviour and the important message it sends to US–China policy makers should not be underestimated: Although from the Chinese perspective the US-China relationship may no longer be’ key of keys’ it is still key, and while it remains so the US retain an element of influence over China, and the’ rise of China,’ that it might not uphold to the same extent over the long term future.

Ben Moles holds a Masters in International Security Studies from the University of Sydney and has interned for the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute, Sydney. He can be contacted at bwmoles@gmail.com or bmol4353@uni.sydney.edu.au or follow him on Twitter @bwmoles

DFAT and touching the void: A case for establishing an Australia Council.

Ben Moles

This opinion piece has previously been published by On Line Opinion, and for her contribution to that piece I wish to thank Alex Oliver for her time and comments. An updated version of the original piece appears below, which includes a number of suggestions from my colleague, Guy Roberts of the University of Melbourne- to whom I also wish to extend my gratitude.

In a piece I’d previously written, which questioned the utility of Australia claiming the ‘Indo-Pacific’ as our own, I acknowledged that Australia simply isn’t doing enough in a regional and global diplomatic/cultural context. This is yet more proof that DFAT is simply over stretched and under resourced (The Lowy Institute’s Alex Oliver has consistently warned that underfunding may invite unexpected peril). Even as the latest Defence white paper looks to plant itself in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ Asian Century, there is no sign that DFAT will have sufficient funding to meet this objective. With every developed nation scrambling to engage the Global ‘South’, there is a real danger that Australia might get left behind. One short-term, cost-effective way to triage the situation is through cultural soft-power. In this sense, building an Australia Council (modified and modelled on the British Council) might well provide an effective platform to project Australian economic and diplomatic interests – even if it is no substitute for an adequately funded DFAT.

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Beyond the official Australian diplomatic missions stationed abroad, Austrade currently facilitates trade and investment initiatives, promotes the Australian Education sector, and, in some cases, provides limited consular services. Less well known is DFAT’s International Cultural Council that focuses purely on the promotion of Australian arts and cultural exchanges.

So why an Australia Council? Simply put, Australia needs to increase the breadth and depth of its global footprint; to spread across all nations and seep beyond the capital cities and consulate addresses. DFAT doesn’t have the resources to do this, leaving a void – and an opportunity – in our current foreign policy thinking. An Australia Council (modelled on the British Council) might offer a low cost temporary solution, and provide a foundation for more substantial future investments in soft-power diplomacy; an Australia Council could touch and fill that existing void.

Created in 1934, the British Council’s ongoing activities creates international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and builds trust between them worldwide.” Essentially it is tasked with promoting British culture, language and business around the world. In diplomatic speak it is a ‘quango’, an independent not-for-profit (albeit 1/3 government funded) charity with a 2011/2012 turnover of £739 million.  Unlike some parts of the British Establishment, the Council has effectively embraced the information age, with wide ranging social media engagement and proactive use of IT and youth culture. Joseph Nye would consider the Council a fine example of ‘soft-power’ projection: a means of positively and effectively promoting ‘Brand UK’ around the around.

Of course, the British Council has not been without its critics; creating an Australian Council should indeed consider these issues, as well as acknowledging Australia’s own unique needs. Essentially, examining the British Council gives Australia the opportunity to learn, adapt and create something far more effective and competitive.

For example, the results driven organisational culture that emerged (and largely stymied) Britain’s public sector departments in the mid 2000’s, wherein short-term results and public accountability became paramount, form the core contemporary criticism of the British Council. The problem vis-à-vis the British Council was the expectation that measurable ‘analogue results’ (think of the eye-rolling ‘Key Performance Indicators’) be extracted from a ‘digital age’ cultural agent.  Essentially, the operating environment and soft-power goals of the British Council are unique; the metrics of its success are not, and should not, be immediately measured in binary terms, but by appreciating the Council’s longer-term, and broader-focused impact across multiple areas of cultural, diplomatic and social engagement over time.

Accusations have also been levelled against the British Council that it directly and aggressively competes with the UK’s language training sector; in some areas holding a monopoly that excludes the very industries it claims to represent.  In reply, the Council attempts to justify such behaviour as a result of Government funding cuts and a subsequent need to shore up its finances in order to sustain and promote its broader objectives. While these funding cuts might imply a decline in its overall significance and standing in Whitehall, they have been in line with other austerity measures and should  no means indicate the irrelevance or impotence of the British Council. Transcending the bureaucratic contextualisation of KPIs and inputs/outputs, some commentators recognise the work of the British Council represents “One of the great bargains on the Treasury’s list”.

On the global stage, the British Council is certainly not alone in the soft-power/public diplomacy work. A plethora of nations have recognised the benefits of cultural ‘sexiness’.  Examples include the Goethe-Institut, Alliance-Francaise, and even the comparatively recent Confucius-Institute. In this context, Australia’s Walkabout Pubs don’t quite cut it for global cultural recognition – nor do other examples of Australia’s relaxed contribution to global cultural activities. Jokes aside, the soft-power efforts of other countries is highlighting Australia’s public diplomacy deficiency, further strengthening the case for establishing an Australia Council. Essentially, if others can and are doing it, why aren’t we?

What would the Australia Council do? Similarly to its British counterpart, it would promote Australia across the region, and strengthen host state links and ties with Australia across culture, education and business. Where there is a need, and where Australia is currently absent, the Council could touch and temporarily fill the void. The Australia Council could also act as a facilitator (a node between Australian Embassies/Consulates and the public) and be established as a first point of contact for those locally who have an interest in Australia and visiting Australians with local inquiries, potentially relieving some of the burden from Australia’s already under-strain Embassies and Consulates.

Who would it do it? From a pragmatic, cost-benefit analysis, the cheapest and most enthusiastic ambassadors of the council would be Australian tertiary students and graduates. Generally, they are capable, enthused, and culturally-proactive while possessing relevant skills, keenness to work and a hunger for Resume relevant work experience. Many Australian students already take a gap year before, during or after their study, thus creating a fertile, pre-seeded environment for quick, decentralised, oak-tree-style Australian Council creation. Furthermore, International students/graduates returning home from Australian universities could also provide a potentially rich resource for engagement, as they possess valuable local knowledge and networks and all-important language skills. What better ambassadors for the lucky country, than youthful, open-minded and idealistic young people?

Australia Councils could be run on minimal full-time staff, predominantly consisting of recent graduates to keep costs low, creating and utilising an internship program to satisfy its other specific work requirements and needs. Having been an intern myself, I know many students/graduates would jump at the chance to take part in such a program – perhaps receiving a minimal per diem to cover basic living costs (which factoring many of Australia’s potential target countries, wouldn’t be much) or would even be happy to cover their own costs to get there (DFAT already offers some such internship opportunities under similar conditions) and the charitable status of such an enterprise would mean interns would be volunteering – negating work visa requirements. Perhaps a logical progression would be, over time, the nomination a full time Australia Council employee, at each Australia Council, and create Honorary Consuls of them, enabling them to take on more consular service duties. The key point to remember is independence – although the Australia Councils could be an extension of Australian foreign policy in terms of cultural, diplomatic and economic engagement, it should not be an organ of the state (few things would so effectively kill the entrepreneurial, idealistic volunteerism upon which the scheme would be fuelled than the dead hand of official bureaucracy!).

How would such an enterprise be funded? Similarly to the British Council. The British Council receives less than one third of its funding from British Government grants. The Australian Government would have to do likewise. A mix of revenue from commercial activities and sponsors/benefactors should be the primary focus.

Creating a network of Australia Councils could be a potential win-win situation: As an auxiliary to official engagement, an Australia Council would support and enhance the pursuit of national goals – serving at a second, third or fourth tier of international engagement. The Australian Government would see Brand Australia, and Australia’s diplomatic soft-power ‘reach’ expanded ‘on the cheap’. Council sponsors would get to positively promote themselves through sponsorship association; the host state would have a new outlet for establishing closer links to Australia at no incurred cost to itself; and students/graduates would have an opportunity to gain valuable ‘real life’ beneficial work experience. Doing so would achieve, in the short term, many of the benefits of an actual diplomatic mission to a country, at a fraction of the cost, and in places where (funding considered) Missions would not be likely to exist.

There are, of course, a plethora of such soft-power activities in place, including the Australian American Leadership Dialogue, the social entrepreneurial Language Connection and even the venerable Colombo Plan itself. The Australian Government, having recognised the benefit of such activities in and of themselves, should embrace the opportunities that a broader, global, proactive engagement driven Australia Council could create. The Australia Council would support, not supplant DFAT; it would be a little something directed in the right place, and would certainly be better than the non-engagement that exists in so many critical places of the world. At the very least, the case for establishing an Australia Council exists and warrants further investigation.

Ben Moles holds a Masters in International Security Studies from the University of Sydney and has interned for the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute, Sydney. He can be contacted at bwmoles@gmail.com or bmol4353@uni.sydney.edu.au or Follow on Twitter @bwmoles

Flashing a little flesh: A few observations in relation to my piece yesterday and the released Australian Defence White Paper today.

Ben Moles

The 2013 Australian Defence White Paper is available hereand here’s yesterdays piece.

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No new Air Warfare Destroyer, but the Australian government has made a commitment to (eventually replace the already decaying and obsolete Collins Class by 2038 perhaps?) build its new submarine fleet in Adelaide:

8.46 Due to the strategic value and importance of Australia’s submarine capability, the Government remains committed to replacing the existing Collins Class fleet with an expanded fleet of 12 conventional submarines that will meet Australia’s future strategic requirements. The future submarines will be assembled in South Australia. The Government has ruled out consideration of a nuclear powered submarine capability to replace the Collins Class fleet.

Strangely at a time when the Government ‘buzz phrase’ seems to be all options are on the table; where Australia’s submarine future is concerned only one option is left on the table, and in the whole scheme of options, it’s not a particularly good one! Domestic politics, and a political cost-benefit analysis, has trumped strategic need, and a defensive cost-benefit analysis:

8.50 The Government has also taken the important decision to suspend further investigation of the two Future Submarine options based on military-off-the-shelf designs in favour of focusing resources on progressing an ‘evolved Collins’ and new design options that are likely to best meet Australia’s future strategic and capability requirements

Australia will take 12 new Super Hornets (EF-18G ‘Growler’ electronic warfare models) and reduce its JSF F-35 order to 72, from the 100 it had indicated it would require:

8.17 Recognising the importance of winning the electromagnetic battle, the Government announced in 2012 its commitment to a future fleet of 12 EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft for Australia. Since this announcement, the Government has decided to acquire 12 new-build Growler aircraft and retain Australia’s 24 existing F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft in their current configuration. This decision takes advantage of a valuable opportunity to assure Australia’s air combat capability during the transition period to the Joint Strike Fighter.

Expect to see the number of Super Hornets increasing overtime relative to a decrease in (interest, as the price soars) JSF F-35’s.

Concerning ‘what do we want to be able to do’ and ‘where to we want to be able to do it’- the latter seems to have been addressed, worryingly- without too much thought being given to the former:

2.5 The 2009 Defence White Paper made clear Australia’s enduring interest in the stability of what it called the wider Asia-Pacific region. The Indo-Pacific is a logical extension of this concept, and adjusts Australia’s priority strategic focus to the arc extending from India though Southeast Asia to Northeast Asia, including the sea lines of communication on which the region depends.

2.6 The Indo-Pacific is still emerging as a system. Given its diversity and broad sweep, its security architecture is, unsurprisingly, a series of sub-regions and arrangements rather than a unitary whole. But over time, Australia’s security environment will be significantly influenced by how the Indo-Pacific and its architecture evolves.

The Indo-Pacific, a strategic colossus (from an Australian perspective) I’ve warned about before, is now Australia’s apparent region of strategic interest. How we shape our interests and influence what happens there, remains to be seen. A point acknowledged in the paper is:

2.11 For Australia, this more complex environment will make it more challenging for us to achieve or influence outcomes. Asian countries will balance a broader range of interests and partners, and Australia’s voice will need to be clearer and stronger to be heard.

How will this be achieved? Well, no clear answer is provided. With a diminishing defence budget and an already under resourced Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade- we’ll have to make do with hope for the time being, or perhaps there remains a certain amount of intent to attempt to cling onto the coattails of a powerful friend as we get dragged along and through the Indo-Pacific Asian Century?

On the Alliance. If an ANZUS Alliance reliance is to remain the foundation of Australia’s defence strategy (which the White Paper seems to indicate that it is), as we largely continue to attempt to free-ride off the US relying on our demonstrated unwavering loyalty and ‘special relationship’ with them, then Australia will have to be prepared to ‘show a little more leg’- so to speak, to ‘keep them on board’ and this Australia has signalled we are prepared to do, sowing the seeds for a gradual but greater US military ‘footprint’ on Australian soil and in/on our waters soon:

6.14 The second force posture initiative involves enhanced aircraft cooperation, which is expected to result in increased rotations of US Air Force aircraft through northern Australia. This will enhance bilateral collaboration and offer greater opportunities for combined and multilateral training and exercises.

6.15 At the Australia-US Ministerial Meeting (AUSMIN) in Perth on 14 November 2012, Australia and the United States welcomed the success of the first rotation of US Marine Corps personnel and agreed to continue to progress the initiatives in an incremental and considered manner.

6.16 In recognition of the importance of the Indian Ocean and our combined focus on the global strategic significance of the region, Australia and the United States also agreed to continue exploring cooperation on Indian Ocean matters, reflecting our combined focus on the global strategic significance of the region. This will include potential opportunities for additional naval cooperation at a range of locations, including HMAS Stirling, Australia’s Indian Ocean naval base.

6.23 The Government will explore further opportunities to support US defence communications capabilities, including through hosting capabilities and the possible establishment of a Combined Communications Gateway in Western Australia, which would provide both Australia and the United States greater access to the Wideband Global Satellite Communications constellation in which we are partners. This cooperation will build on the longstanding defence communications relationship, including at the Harold E. Holt Naval Communications Station at Exmouth which provides support to US and Australian submarine fleets, and which will host the C-band space object detection and tracking radar to be relocated from the United States.

Whether our powerful friend will take the bait and will be enough, remains to be seen.

Reflecting the overall theme of the 2013 Australian Defence White Paper- for now we will just have to wait, treading water in the Indo-Pacific while we do, and hope for the best!

Ben Moles holds a Masters in International Security Studies from the University of Sydney and has interned for the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute, Sydney. He can be contacted at bwmoles@gmail.com or bmol4353@uni.sydney.edu.au or Follow on Twitter @bwmoles

The 2013 Australian Defence White Paper: A Paper with ‘Teeth’ or a ‘Toothless Wonder’?

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Ben Moles

“What do we want [fill in the blank] when do we want it [blank,,, but sooner preferably to later]”. 

And so the old chant goes. The 2013 Australian Defence White Paper is expected to be released tomorrow. Anticipate the first blank to be filled with a list of things Australia can’t really afford or doesn’t really need (at least another Air Warfare Destroyer, at least a few Super Hornets as a ‘filler’ for delayed JSF F-35’s, where it appears to be the case that in terms of the price, the sky literally is the limit), or for domestic political purposes won’t determine where they will come from (think- Australia’s submarine odyssey, I cant see why a feasibility study is even necessary, Australia excels at many things; building and maintaining reliable submarines really isn’t one of them). Expect the second blank to be, well non too committal.

There are two issues that will stymie the overall effectiveness and utility of the 2013 Australian Defence White Paper: This White Paper will largely remain overshadowed by the failings of its predecessor, the 2009 Defence White Paper (which was a debacle) that promised much and delivered little and that an anticipated likely change in Australian Federal Government in September this year will likely lead to a decision to produce a new Defence White Paper- rendering this one redundant soon anyway.

But an even bigger failure, than what has been cited above, and a problem that looms large over Australian Strategic Defence Planning is the failure to ask the precursor to ‘what do we want’ and ‘when do we want it’- that being: ‘what do we want to be able to do’ and ‘where to we want to be able to do it’, followed by ‘what can we afford‘ and ‘what can we afford not to do‘?

The key aspect absent from Australian Strategic Defence Planning is vision and this may, or may not, be linked to an inability to look beyond Australia’s ANZUS alliance reliance, the ANZUS alliance being a factor which will feature prominently in tomorrows White Paper I am sure. I also anticipate the ground will be set for a larger US ‘foot-print’ on Australian soil, and perhaps in our waters, in the not too distant future- however, we will just have to watch this space and wait until tomorrow on that front.

For Australia to produce a Defence White Paper of substance, of value and worth, something with ‘teeth’ it must grapple with and set out to answer these paramount questions as its starting point; a failure to do so in combination with the factors above will likely render the 2013 Australian Defence White Paper, and any future Defence White Paper for that matter, a ‘toothless wonder’.

Ben Moles holds a Masters in International Security Studies from the University of Sydney and has interned for the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute, Sydney. He can be contacted at bwmoles@gmail.com or bmol4353@uni.sydney.edu.au or Follow on Twitter @bwmoles