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Tuesday
Oct042011

Interview: Ambassador Primo Alui Jolieanto

Primo Alui Joelianto is Indonesian Ambassador to Australia.

This week marks the opening of the inaugural Australia-Indonesia Dialogue, a new forum designed to enhance people-to-people and business-to-business linkage between the two countries. To mark the occasion, and to follow up on the recent Pnyx Foreign Policy Dinner on the same topic, Pnyx Events Director Olivia Cable interviewed Ambassador Primo Alui Joelianto about the state of Australia-Indonesia relations in the 21st century. 

See below for the list of questions and corresponding start-times.

1. From Indonesia's perspective, what are the most important issues in the Australia-Indonesia bilateral relationship? - 00.10

2. What is your assessment of security cooperation between the to countries, and how might this be advanced beyond the current focus on counter-terrorism? - 01.42

3. The United States and Australia seem on the cusp of a new agreement to enhance US access to Australian military facilities. How does Indonesia view these developments, and does it welcome a greater US footprint in the region? - 02.37

4. Diplomatically, does Indonesia aspire to a leadership position in the region beyond ASEAN? - 03.46

Thursday
Sep292011

Business as Usual Under Putin - Again?

Konstantin von Eggert is a journalist and independent analyst of Russian affairs. He is a former Vice-President of ExxonMobil Russia, and was Moscow Bureau Editor for the BBC World Service from 1998 to 2009. 

Image by flickr user Wolfgang Wildner
«What’ll happen to the Motherland and to us?» - sang Russia’s most popular rock band DDT eighteen years ago, in the midst of the turbulent post-Communist transformation. These days the question is being asked again – after the announcement of Vladimir Putin’s anticipated comeback to the Kremlin in 2012. The temptation is to answer: “Nothing much will happen both to the Motherland and to us”. As someone who thought that in the run up to parliamentary and presidential elections the Russian political class would change the stage props if not some of the policies of the last decade I have to admit I was wrong. So shall we say, business as usual will continue?

I am not so sure. I will probably agree with quite a few other esteemed commentators, who say that Mr. Putin’s third (fourth?) term will be more or less a variation on the theme of his previous two (or three, depending on how you assess Mr. Medvedev’s tenure). However, if so this may become the biggest problem of Mr. Putin’s return.

The ideas that informed his stay in the Kremlin were simple – and hence effective. These were: taking national TV networks under direct or indirect state control; getting rid of the 1990s legacy, denounced as that of chaos and criminality; using oil and gas revenues to boost consumption and, consequently, jack up the poll ratings; at least partly restoring Russian power in international affairs, and especially, in the post-Soviet space – using Gazprom as the country’s most potent policy tool abroad.

Of these only the TV control survives intact. “We saved you from the 1990s debacle” is much less potent as a slogan today than it was twelve years ago – and will completely fade as time goes by. People anywhere in the world tend to have short memories and Russia is not an exception. A whole generation is coming of age now that is largely indifferent to this message. There is a constituency, and a large one that values stability above all, but I think there are more and more people who ask: “OK, what’s next?” To this we haven’t yet heard any specific answers. I doubt we will because “If you don’t do anything you do not fail” seems to be the slogan of the day.

Oil and gas revenues are dwindling. The now departed minister of finance, Alexei Kudrin, has regularly reported on the continually rising oil price ceiling that affords Russia to have a balanced budget. Shale gas, renewables, LNG, the changing nature of the gas market itself, moving towards spot trading – all this makes the task of maintaining the Russian budget healthy much more difficult. Crumbling Soviet-era infrastructure, a nearly bankrupt national pension fund, skewered demographics and migration patterns make the economic problems ever more acute and ever less amenable to quick “let’s pour in more cash”-type fixes.

Finally, Russia's foreign policy is visibly constrained by all of the above plus lack of truly reliable allies and friends. Moscow’s influence in the post-Soviet space is under pressure from China, the EU as well as the political elites of those countries. They formulate their nations’ interests by themselves, for themselves and, increasingly, without bothering to consider what will Moscow say. Tools that are still at the Kremlin’s disposal – like the Customs Union or the Organisation of Collective Defence Treaty – have limited usage, as these organisations never achieved a clarity of goals and unity of action that are needed to make them really effective. Essentially they remain largely symbolic barriers against what is still called here “Western influence”. Russia’s relations with “the West” itself are undergoing a transformation that is ominous. In the eyes of Europe and America the return of Mr. Putin will signify that a relationship devoid of values and based solely on interests and competition is on the cards. This may sound great to those in Moscow who dislike the “values’ chatter”. However, this may also mean a much less lenient approach to Russia itself and its vital interests. The EU anti-monopoly commissars raiding ‘Gazprom’ affiliates recently may have given everyone a taste of things to come.

“More of the same” in Russian politics will very probably not mean “more of the same results”.

 

This article was originally published in Konstantin von Eggert's weekly column, Due Westhosted by RIA Novosti. 

 

Wednesday
Sep282011

Interview: Thomas Mahnken on U.S. Naval Strategy

U.S. Naval War College

.

See below for the list of questions and correspnding start-times. 

 1.  From a US naval perspective, what are the  most disturbing aspects of China's military modernisation? - 00:09

 2. In terms of force structure and doctrine, how is the US Navy preparing to adapt to a more contested Western Pacific? - 00:39

3. Which capabilities in particular are most likely to feature in Air-Sea Battle? - 01:41

 

4. Will the high cost of naval modernisation shape the US response to China's growing military power, and if so, how? - 02:42

 

5. To what extent will US allies such as Japan and Australia feature in future US naval planning? - 06:32

 

6. Have US strategists underestimated China's military rise, as many have suggested, and if so what accounts for this error? - 07:47

 

7. What, in your view, is the primary driver behind China's aircraft carrier program? - 08:49

 

8. How might the Indian Ocean figure in US naval planning vis-a-vis China? - 10:34

 

9. Finally, what sort of force structure would you recommend for the Australian Navy? - 11:41


The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Government, Navy or Department of Defense.

Monday
Sep262011

Who's Afraid of an Iranian Nuke?

Dina Esfandiary is a Research Analyst and Project Coordinator in the non-Proliferation and Disarmament programme at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London


12 July 2011, Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, meets with IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano in Vienna. Photo by Flickr user IAEA Imagebank

Two weeks ago, at the inaugural dinner of the IISS Global Strategic Review, I was wedged between the Director of a new think-tank in the US and a retired US army general, being questioned on ‘the situation in Iran’ and the ‘status of the Iranian nuclear programme’. There I was, giving my perspective, when I was suddenly faced with an aggressive rebuttal from a gentleman across the table: “So what?” he bellowed, “So what if Iran gets the bomb. Who cares?!” Eight expectant faces turned my way.

A whole list of reasons came to mind, none of which would have appeased my angry, jet-lagged opponent. But his outburst did make me think. When debating Iran’s nuclear programme, we don’t examine exactly why we think an Iranian bomb would be so frightening.

Most people – although clearly not all – agree that an Iranian bomb would be a bad thing. After all, we barely trust our democratically elected and legitimate leaders with the control of nuclear weapons, surely a brutally repressive regime with little or no respect for human rights and aggressive foreign policy rhetoric (to say the least), is not who we would trust with a weapon of mass destruction?

But, then again, Iran is unlikely to use the bomb. The Islamic regime’s sole purpose is survival; to continue running Iran. Using a nuclear device against its opponents would thwart that goal: Tehran would be facing a wide-array of retaliation strikes that would overturn the fragile political status quo. Of course it is impossible to say that they would never use a nuclear device (otherwise they would have no minimum deterrent, and may as well not build one), but it is highly unlikely.

So why do we care if Iran gets the bomb?

Most importantly, it would make the Islamic Republic a great deal bolder in its foreign policy. Iran’s regional aspirations of hegemony would no longer be a matter of trying to appear like a bully, it would be one. And rather than threatening the region with a nuclear weapon, the weapon would give them the confidence to activate their proxies to cause trouble. Americans stirring up trouble in the region? Well, let’s send Hezbollah to nab a few in Lebanon to teach them a lesson.  Or better yet, perhaps we can push Hamas to ratchet up their attacks on Israel, send them a few extra rockets and mortars. Memories of the eighties anyone?

Admittedly, this might be more difficult given the changes in the region in the past few months. But it is far from implausible.

An Iranian bomb would be bad for the region. In June, likelihood of a regional nuclear cascade.

Finally, an Iranian bomb would deliver a significant blow to the international non-proliferation and disarmament agenda. Iran signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968 and ratified it two years later. Its programme has since been subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verification. If the regime decides to get the bomb it will have abandoned the NPT.

Some people (presumably the gentleman mentioned above) would say, ‘so what?’ After all, India, Pakistan and Israel are not party to the treaty, and North Korea was, but in 2003 withdrew from it, after numerous violations. Although Israel, India and Pakistan pose a compliance problem because they have not acceded to the NPT, they have not violated anything per se and have been nudged towards the treaty regime through bilateral agreements over issues like nuclear security and export controls. These cases were all failures for non-proliferation and disarmament, but the treaties are there for a reason. Flawed though it is, it still gives the IAEA the legitimacy to set standards and verify the peaceful uses of such sensitive technology, so it can be available to all.

This is what my answer to the gentleman across the table would have been. An Iranian bomb is simply a frightening idea.

Saturday
Sep242011

The Value in High Value Targeting

Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, ANU, and a Research Associate and Lecturer at the University of Canberra.

This month, Four Corners, a long-running Australian current affairs program, aired a report critical of a coalition-wide “kill-capture strategy” in Afghanistan. Although the terminology was wrong, the report, which mostly focused on High-Value Targeting (HVT), presented some conventional assumptions about HVT as a technique in contemporary conflict: mainly, that it doesn’t work.

There are two schools of thought about why HVT raids are unsuccessful. The first is that the incidental harm caused to the civilian population by HVT raids is hierarchical organisations - typified by organised crime networks - and not insurgent or terrorist networks, which tend to be more structurally decentralised. Both claims are wrong.

The first criticism of HVT contains an implicit assumption that, because the raids are ineffective, any harm caused to civilians is protecting civilians from harm, but causing some harm is inevitable no matter the context. The general emphasis in COIN is to minimise incidental harm relative to the military gain, and HVT, when done properly, has the potential to do this reasonably well.

When compared with large scale patrols in urban areas, such as cordon and search operations in Baghdad during the 2007 surge, HVT substantially diminishes contact between military forces and the population. Furthermore, HVT relies to a greater extent on the precise use of intelligence and, ultimately, directed force against a specific target. In this regard, HVT has become, in a many ways, land warfare’s equivalent of precision-guided munitions.

The second criticism of HVT takes an overly narrow view of the technique and its aims. In this view, HVT is all about removing the leadership of an organisation, thereby disrupting the decision-making process and sewing disarray at the lower levels of the organisation where guidance is most needed. This may be the Hollywood conception of targeted assassinations, but the reality of HVT is somewhat different.

The mistake hinges on our misunderstanding of organisational structure. Hierarchical organisations are often assumed to be less resilient, and therefore more susceptible to HVT, than decentralised networks, which often seem harder to penetrate and almost impervious to assault. In fact, the opposite is true. Loose networks may actually be more susceptible to the technique than hierarchies, for two reasons.

Firstly, hierarchies have a well-entrenched organising principle that allows for easy succession, something that loose social networks often lack. Secondly, social networks are based on trade-off between secrecy and efficiency (and sometimes effectiveness) which greatly diminishes the restorative capacity of the network.

Secretive networks concentrate around highly interconnected individuals who often bridge gaps in otherwise insular cells. One example of this is the Jemaah Islamiyah cell that conducted the 2002 Bali Bombings. A core 9/11 cell, which was even more secretive than the JI cell, indicates that many of the terrorists involved in the attack did not know each other and that the removal of key individuals may have made the level of organisation required to stage the attacks impossible.

The additional advantage in targeting highly connected individuals is that, if captured, they are able to expose many areas of the organisation. Even if highly connected individuals aren’t captured in the first place, they are at much greater risk of detection, since they are known to the largest number of people across the network.

In a hierarchical organisaiton, by contrast, leaders work their way “up the ladder”, while individual branches are kept separate from each other to avoid being compromised. Networks have similar protections in the form of isolated cells, but often centre on fewer, more connected and therefore more vulnerable handlers.

HVT raids have local insurgent leaders and targeting highly connected facilitators whose relationships could compromise large portions of a network. The implication is that tailoring HVT to the removal of intermediaries who enable transfer of materials, weapons, intelligence and personnel may have a more substantial impact on the network, degrading its capacity to operate regardless of leadership.

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