Lead the way, Malcolm

Hugh White is Professor of Strategic Studies and Head of the Strategic & Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University.

 Malcolm Turnbull and Christopher Pyne. Photo by Flickr user Turnbull Malcolm

Suddenly Australian politicians have started talking just a bit more sensibly about America, China and the future of Asia. For the past couple of years this has been the central topic in Australian foreign policy debates, but leaders on both sides of politics have studiously avoided serious discussion of it. Not any more.

The drought broke with Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne’s addressed Asialink in Melbourne on Australia in the Asian Century.

Now another Liberal frontbencher, Malcolm Turnbull, has weighed in with a speech at the LSE last week.  Turnbull is not just any frontbencher, of course. He is a former and potential future leader of his party, and one of the most thoughtful policy analysts in a notably policy-lite parliament. He has long taken a lively and intelligent interest in foreign and strategic questions, and his speech moves the political debate about Australia’s complex choices in the Asian century one small but very important step forward.

We can best see why Turnbull’s small step matters by looking first at Pyne’s and Gillard’s speeches. They both emphasised that China’s rise is fundamentally transforming Asia, and will have profound implications for the way Asia and the world works. Both spoke about how important the evolution of the US-China relationship is going to be in the future peace and stability of Asia and the wider world. And both acknowledged that Australia’s foreign policy would need to adapt to these very new circumstances.

But at that point, both Gillard and Pyne faltered. Both assured their listeners that despite the profound shift in relative power between the US and China, and China’s unambiguous challenge to the American leadership, US primacy would remain the foundation of Asian order for as far ahead as we can see, and Australia’s policy will be unwaveringly to support American in defending its primacy against China’s challenge.

In other words, everything in Asia is changing, but Australia’s foreign and strategic policies can continue in future decades as they have for decades past, as if nothing has happened. Of course this is nonsense. China’s rise has the most profound implications for America’s role in Asia, and hence for Australia’s alliance with America.

If Washington does as Gillard and Pyne suggest and tries to perpetuate US dominance in the face of Beijing’s rise, it will lead to escalating strategic competition with China which would be a disaster for everyone. As Asia changes, America will need to play a very different role, and our alliance with America will work very differently too. These are the inescapable conclusions that Gillard and Pyne evaded.

Turnbull’s small but important step was to press forward towards these conclusions where Gillard and Pyne held back. Here is the key line:

The best and most realistic strategic outcome for East Asia must be one in which the powers are in balance with each side effectively able to deny the domination of the other.

So there it is. For the first time a senior Australian politician has acknowledged that in the light of China’s rise, Asia’s peace and Australia’s security might not in future be based on the domination of Asia by Australia’s great and powerful friend. Now it remains only to explore what it should be based on instead, and how Australia can best help to bring it about. Lead the way, Malcolm.


Debate: Is Afghanistan Worth Australian lives?

On 27 July, Pnyx Deputy Editor Raoul Heinrichs participated in an the Wheeler Centre.

Ed note: See Raoul responding to Professor Peter Singer regarding the 'Just War' doctrine at 01:36.00


No Time to Lose Afghanistan

Richard Cleary is a Research Assistant at the Center for Defense Studies and the Program on Advanced Strategic Studies, American Enterprise Institute.

Photo by Flickr user isafmedia

It is unclear precisely what President Karzai’s termination of talks with the Taliban means for the ISAF effort in Afghanistan. But with Karzai’s decision coming on the heels of Admiral Mullen’s criticism of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence for its role in facilitating the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, it seems likely that this could be a decisive moment in the Afghan War, one where America can recommit itself to the government in Kabul, to defeating the Taliban insurgency and to applying pressure on Pakistan to reach some more lasting, and candid, agreement.

Exploiting this opening—and ensuring the security conditions for political development– will be crucial to securing the vast U.S. interests at stake in Afghanistan. And while most arguments regarding the American commitment in Afghanistan focus for good reason on the Taliban’s harboring of Al Qaeda, American leaders would do well to emphasize the larger strategic value of having a strong partner in Kabul.

Ensuring that the government in Kabul, in the words of General Petraeus, “develop(s) sufficient capabilities to secure and govern itself” is important not only for preventing the return of Al Qaeda, but also for injecting stability into a region that is likely to remain problematic for the foreseeable future. A strong, pro-American government in Afghanistan hedges against Iran—encircling Tehran with pro-western regimes– and provides assurances for a fragile Pakistani state next door. While American intervention in Afghanistan was never intended as a part of a grand, “great game” strategy, the devolving situation in Pakistan, in particular, has added importance to the ISAF mission.

A viable Afghan state, it should be said, turns for now on one man: Hamid Karzai. While Karzai might not be the ideal partner, he is more reliable—and more predictable—than often depicted. Karzai is guided above all by a sense of self-interest, a self-interest which largely intersects with American interests in the region. He seeks an independent Afghanistan and understands acutely the formula for achieving it: cobbling together an ethnic coalition of Tajiks, Hazari and Uzbek and a critical mass of Pashto. It is also true that, however much we may wish it were not so, any other Afghan political leader would be subject to political pressures similar to those that Karzai feels today, and likely act in similar ways.

As the political arena expands to include the views of Republican presidential candidates, Afghanistan has returned to a prominent role in the public debate. This is a prime opportunity for those who see vital American interests at stake in the Afghan War to speak up.

This article originally appeared on the blog of the Centre for Defense Studies, American Enterprise Institute


India and Sri Lanka: Asymmetric Co-operation

Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe is a Senior Analyst at Future Directions International

The INS Ranvijay

In a bid to strengthen naval and maritime interoperability and co-operation, India and Sri Lanka have held their first joint-naval exercise since 2005, the largest-ever naval exercise between the two countries. Codenamed SLINEX II, the six-day exercise was held from 18-23 September off Sri Lanka’s eastern coastline and involved 17 warships, including helicopters and maritime aircraft.

The Indian Navy’s involvement comprised one Destroyer (INS Ranvijay), one Frigate (INS Shivlik), one missile corvette (INS Khanjar), one Landing Ship Tank (INS Gharial), two Fast Attack Craft (Cheriyam and Koradivh) and one maritime patrol aircraft. The Sri Lankan contribution to the exercise was two Offshore Patrol Vessels (SLNS Sagara and SLNS Samudura), a Fast Missile Vessel (SLNS Nandimihra), two Fast Gun Boats (SLNS Prathapa and Ranajaya) and six Fast Attack Craft.

As reported in the Indian daily, The Hindu, Rear Admiral Bisht, Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet, Indian Navy, who commanded the Indian ships, affirmed India’s primary interest in the exercise: ‘The Sri Lankan Navy has gained a lot of experience in asymmetric warfare, basically handling attacks by small boats. We learnt from them how they handle these attacks.’

The manoeuvres were held against a backdrop of criticism from fringe ultra-nationalist Tamil parties in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. They accused the Sri Lankan Navy of a string of attacks against Tamil Nadu fishermen – allegations Sri Lanka has strongly denied. ‘India, which has been renovating the Kankesanturai port in Sri Lanka at a huge cost, is about to extend training and other assistance to the Sri Lankan Navy,’ said Dr Ramadoss, leader of the Tamil ultra-nationalist Pattali Makkal Katchi party. He added, ‘When the whole of Tamil Nadu is demanding that India have no relations whatsoever with Sri Lanka, it is improper for the Indian Navy to engage itself in joint naval exercises with the same country.’

Although India has attempted to address the concerns of Tamil Nadu fishermen it has, however consistently dismissed such criticism and has continued to strengthen its relations with Sri Lanka. In fact, during Sri Lanka’s conflict, the Indian Navy provided considerable support to aid the war effort against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). This involved the provision of enhanced access to training facilities, co-ordinated intelligence sharing and joint patrols of the maritime boundary in the Palk Strait, Gulf of Mannar and the Bay of Bengal.

Since the defeat of the LTTE, India has placed greater emphasis on strengthening bilateral defence ties, which it formally announced during Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar’s visit to Sri Lanka in December 2010. This has resulted in India increasing the number of training placements for Sri Lankan military officers and technicians, the frequency of military exercises and the provision of an annual defence dialogue; all of which are significant events.

However, while India’s foreign policy objectives towards Sri Lanka appear to be designed to contest China’s soft power dominance on the island, this is unlikely to be India’s only major goal. Although the LTTE has been militarily defeated in Sri Lanka, both India and Sri Lanka continue to fear the prospect of a revival in secessionist-militancy. Both countries remain on high alert due to the group’s intra-regional and international activities. Given such considerations, it is likely that jointly conducted training exercises like SLINEX II will become an increasingly important feature in defining Indo-Lanka relations in the years ahead.


This article first appeared in Future Directions International.


Baby Steps Toward Asian NATO?

Michael Mazza is a Senior Research Associate at the American Enterprise Institute 

In our recent report on an Asian alliance structure for the 21st century—principally authored by my colleague Dan Blumenthal—we argued that in order to balance against China’s rising power, the United States should work towards a more tightly knit grouping of allies in Asia. We attempted to preempt the conventional counter-argument—that “the allies would never choose sides between the United States and China”—by pointing to the military modernization that is happening across the board in Asia: countries in East, Southeast, and South Asia are all fielding new, more modern capabilities in response to China’s own build-up. As we wrote, it looks to us as if “the allies have made a choice without being asked: they are balancing against China’s power.”

Writing for Foreign Policy, James Traub took issue with this conclusion:

The “Asian Alliances” report warns that “Asia’s future demands nothing less” than a new “shared strategic concept.” The web of Cold War alliances should give way to a military partnership among the United States, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, and others that would require a major increase in military spending and in military and intelligence cooperation. “[A]ny would-be aggressor” would be made to understand “that targeting one ally means invoking the ire of the rest.” It’s hard to believe that these states would agree to join such an explicitly anti-Chinese coalition. There’s also the danger that China would react by concluding that time was no longer on its side, thus turning the coalition into a devastatingly self-fulfilling prophecy.

While Traub’s concern is a reasonable one, evidence suggests that such a coalition is slowly beginning to form, even without direct U.S. participation. Today’s Wall Street Journal reports on a recent meeting of Japanese and Southeast Asian defense officials:

The relationship between Japan and the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has “matured from dialogues to one where Japan plays a more specific cooperative role” on a range of regional security issues, Japanese Vice Minister of Defense Kimito Nakae said Thursday in Tokyo, the day after meeting with senior defense officials from the 10 Asean nations.

Mr. Nakae was speaking at the opening of a seminar on common security issues held the day after the annual defense meeting. Attended by representatives of Japan and Asean countries … the seminar this year prominently featured maritime issues…

Bolstering the possibility of establishing a wider multilateral strategic framework, Mr. Nakae said resolving the maritime problem requires stronger cooperation from Japan, the U.S., and others.

China’s growing naval confidence was the primary subject discussed by a panel of regional security experts during the session on “efforts to strengthen maritime security in the region.”…

Earlier this week, Japan and the Philippines tightened military and security ties, elevating the bilateral relationship to a “strategic partnership” in a joint statement signed by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Philippine President Benigno Aquino III in Tokyo.

In short, countries in Asia find themselves more and more worried about China’s rise and its increasingly aggressive behavior. They are beginning to coordinate their efforts to maintain peace in the region—and, notably, doing so without China’s participation, which they probably believe would be counter-productive.

This is no Asian NATO, not even close. But America’s friends in the region are taking baby steps in that direction.

This article appeared in its original form on The Enterprise Blog.

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