Australian universities must wake up to the risks of researchers linked to China’s military



Two universities are conducting internal reviews of research collaborations linked to the suppression and surveillance of the Uyghur minority in western China.
Tracey Nearmy/AAP

Clive Hamilton, Charles Sturt University

Two Australian universities, University of Technology Sydney and Curtin University, are conducting internal reviews of their funding and research approval procedures after Four Corners’ revealed their links to researchers whose work has materially assisted China’s human rights abuses against the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang province.

UTS, in particular, is in the spotlight because of a major research collaboration with CETC, the Chinese state-owned military research conglomerate. In a response to Four Corners, UTS expressed dismay at the allegations of human rights violations in Xinjiang, which were raised in a Human Rights Watch report earlier this year.

Yet, UTS has been aware of concerns about its collaboration with CETC for two years. When I met with two of the university’s deputy vice chancellors in 2017 to ask them about their work with CETC, they dismissed the concerns.




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According to a report for the Jamestown Foundation, CETC openly declares that its purpose is “leveraging civilian electronics for the gain of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army).” Similar concerns had been raised about CETC’s military links and its work with the CSIRO.

Alex Joske, now an analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, and I had also uncovered a pattern of widespread research collaborations between academics at Australian universities and Chinese scientists and corporations connected to China’s armed forces and security services.

Along with UTS, ANU and UNSW are the most heavily invested. Some of the collaborations have been partly funded by the Australian Research Council. Some of our research was published in June and October 2017.

Some universities challenged over their associations have reacted defensively. Responding to a story questioning the wisdom of UNSW’s huge commitment to a China-funded “Torch Technology Park”, DVC Brian Boyle dismissed the evidence and suggested the criticisms were motivated by xenophobia.

When UTS teamed up with CETC in 2016 to collaborate on research projects worth A$10 million in its CETC Research Institute on Smart Cities, CETC was already working with the Chinese state to improve the world’s most comprehensive and oppressive system of surveillance and control of its citizens.

CETC is upfront about its Smart Cities work, saying it includes “public security early warning preventative and supervisory abilities” and “cyberspace control abilities.” A report by the official Xinhua news agency in 2016 noted that CETC’s work on smart cities “integrates and connects civilian-military dual-use technologies.”

Defence controls

When asked about their collaborations with Chinese experts in military and security technology, universities have typically responded that all of their research proposals comply with the Defence Trade Controls Act, which restricts the export of technologies, including IP, deemed sensitive.

They were able to tick the right boxes on the relevant forms because it was possible to describe the planned research as “civilian.” But even well-informed amateurs know that the traditional distinction between civilian and military research no longer applies because major civilian technologies, like big data, satellite navigation and facial recognition technology, are used in modern weapons systems and citizen surveillance.

At the urging of President Xi Jinping, China’s government has been rapidly implementing a policy of “civilian-military fusion.”




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UNSW scientists have collaborated with experts from the National University of Defence Technology (NUDT), a top military research centre, on China’s Beidou satellite system, which has many civilian as well as military uses, including tracking the movements of people and guiding missiles.

Joske found that some two dozen NUDT-linked researchers have passed through UNSW as visiting scholars or PhD students in the last decade. A further 14 have passed through ANU. Some have backgrounds working on classified Chinese defence projects.

Having visited and studied at Australian institutions, these researchers, who hold rank in the People’s Liberation Army, return to China with deep international networks, advanced training, and access to research that is yet to be classified. In many cases, a clear connection can be drawn between the work that PLA personnel have done in Australia and specific projects they undertake for the Chinese military.

The same can be said for companies like CETC that take research output from Australian researchers and apply it to the security and surveillance technology used across China.

“Orwellian” seems inadequate for the types of surveillance and security technologies being implemented in China. Facial recognition scanners have even been set up in toilets to allocate the proper amount of toilet paper. The state tells you whether you can wipe your backside.

Fixing the system

Some universities pass the buck by saying that the department of immigration is responsible for any security concerns when assessing visa applications for researchers. (Now the authorities are doing more checks, but the universities are grumbling because visas for Chinese scientists are taking too long.)

The universities’ refusal to accept any responsibility tells us there is a cultural problem. Most university executives believe that international scientific collaboration is a pure public good because it contributes to the betterment of humankind — and, of course, the bottom line.

So asking them more carefully to assess and rule out some kinds of research goes against the grain.




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All of this suggests that the system is broken. The fact remains that Chinese military scientists and researchers at companies like CETC have been returning to China with improved knowledge of how to build better weapons and more Orwellian surveillance systems.

American universities are now alive to the problem by looking much more closely at the China links of scientists working in the US. So, in April 2018, it was reassuring to see the Australian minister of defence, Marise Payne, commission an inquiry into the effectiveness of the defence trade controls regime.

However, when it came time, the report failed to recognise Australia’s new security environment, especially the risks posed by China’s aggressive program of acquiring technology from abroad. It accepted the university view that the system is working fine and, apart from a few recommended adjustments to the existing Defence Trade Controls Act, kicked the can down the road.

In short, defence and security organisations, who can see how the world has changed, lost out to those who benefit from an open international research environment, one that has been heavily exploited by Beijing for its own benefit.

In the US, federal science funding authorities have been sending the message that continued funding will be contingent on universities applying more due diligence to the national security impacts of their overseas research collaborations. We can expect to see something similar in Australia.The Conversation

Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics, Centre For Applied Philosophy & Public Ethics (CAPPE), Charles Sturt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Nuclear weapons? Australia has no way to build them, even if we wanted to



Public support may be shifting in favour of nuclear energy in Australia, but there remains significant opposition to nuclear weapons.
Sean Davey/AAP

Heiko Timmers, UNSW

In his latest book, strategist and defence analyst Hugh White has gone nuclear, triggering a debate about whether Australia should develop and maintain its own nuclear arsenal.

But developing and sustaining modern nuclear weapons requires a certain combination of technologies and industries that Australia simply does not have. In fact, it may be safely estimated on the basis of approval and construction times for nuclear power reactors in other western countries that it would take some 20 years to establish such capabilities in the present legal and economic environment.

Opting for nuclear weapons also fails to consider the global implications of Australia abandoning its almost 50-year stance against nuclear proliferation.

The first step: nuclear power generation

White argues quite rightly that China may eventually overtake the US in terms of its industrial production and military reach. Speculating that this could entail a strategic withdrawal of the US from the western Pacific, he suggests Australia might find itself without the American defence umbrella to deter Chinese influence, or worse.




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With China’s swift rise as naval power, Australia needs to rethink how it defends itself


But Australia would struggle to replace its long and successful alliance with the US with a limited nuclear deterrence capability. Even ignoring the issues generally involved in adopting new defence capabilities – evident in the many problems hindering Australia’s efforts to replace its ageing submarine fleet – the idea is fanciful given our current stance on nuclear energy.

Nuclear power reactors, uranium enrichment plants, missile technology and high-tech electronics manufacturing would all be essential to support truly independent efforts to develop a compact nuclear weapon that could be delivered by missile from a submarine and kept in a permanent state of readiness.

Neither power reactors nor enrichment facilities exist in Australia today, despite some pioneering research in both areas in the past.

Australia’s missile development and high-tech electronics sectors, meanwhile, are in catch-up mode or in their infancy due to years of economic reliance on mining, tourism and services. Advancing and establishing nuclear industries for the sole purpose of developing a nuclear weapons program would neither be practically nor economically viable.

Political will for nuclear energy?

The only way such industries could be developed realistically would be if Australia added nuclear power to its suite of power generation technologies.

Of course, Australia has large uranium deposits and a well-established uranium mining and export industry. And there appears to be increasing public support for nuclear power. A recent survey found that 44% of Australians support nuclear power plants, up four points since the question was last asked in 2015. Other polls indicate support might even be higher.

A well-developed nuclear power industry would eventually give Australia almost all the necessary technologies, personnel and materials to make and maintain a nuclear weapon. This includes, in particular, the ability to enrich uranium and breed plutonium.




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But herein lies the problem. Even if the public did eventually support a nuclear energy program, it remains unclear whether the necessary political will would be there.

Legally, the Howard government banned domestic nuclear power plants in the late 1990s – an act that would now need to be overturned by parliament.

In 2006, the federal government commissioned an inquiry led by Ziggy Switkowski into the future feasibility of nuclear power generation in Australia. The final report found that nuclear energy would be 20-50% more expensive than coal without carbon pricing. It also said a nuclear power industry would take between 10 and 15 years to establish.

Ziggy Switkowski, a former nuclear physicist, was chosen by the Howard government to lead the inquiry into nuclear energy in Australia.
Glenn Hunt/AAP

Recently, Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the Morrison government was open to reversing the country’s nuclear energy ban, but only if there was a “clear business case” to do so. With the current widespread availability of cheaper, renewable energies in Australia, this makes the economics of nuclear power generation less convincing.

Lastly, in order to ensure true self-reliance, a delivery option for a nuclear weapon would have to be developed without purchasing technologies from other countries, such as the US. This would be incredibly costly and difficult to do.

When it comes to this sort of missile technology and high-tech electronics manufacturing, Australia is currently not leading in research and development.

Australia’s long-time stance against nuclear weapons

Even though Australia is not in a position to contemplate nuclear weapons due to its technological and industrial limitations, there are moral arguments against pursuing such a goal that should be considered carefully.

The country has been at the forefront of the international non-proliferation movement, ratifying both the UN Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1973 and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1998.

A 2018 poll also showed that 78.9% of Australians supported joining the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, while only 7.7% were opposed.

Australians should remind themselves that these treaties have greatly contributed to peace and security in the world. Abandoning such longstanding principles of its foreign policy, which are aimed at creating a better, more peaceful world, would be an implosion of Australian character of massive proportions.The Conversation

Heiko Timmers, Associate Professor of Physics, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Diplomacy and defence remain a boys’ club, but women are making inroads



Julie Bishop and Marise Payne have risen to the top in foreign affairs, but their successes may be masking more systemic issues preventing women from advancement.
William West/AAP

Susan Harris Rimmer, Griffith University and Elise Stephenson, Griffith University

The Lowy Institute has launched a three-year study on gender representation in Australia’s diplomatic, defence and intelligence services, and the findings are critical: gender diversity lags significantly behind Australia’s public service and corporate sector, as well as other countries’ foreign services.

In a field which has long ignored research on gender or feminist approaches to understanding international relations, this report is welcome and sets forth an important research agenda within Australia.

Gender diversity is an important issue for all who value the pursuit of Australia’s national interests overseas. Attracting and retaining the best talent is more important now than ever before.

As then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in June 2017:

The economic, political and strategic currents that have carried us for generations are increasingly difficult to navigate.

The report’s most significant findings

The Lowy Institute found that of all the fields in international relations, women are least represented in Australia’s intelligence communities.

As the funding and resources of the intelligence sector continue to grow, this is a serious problem with little transparency. The sector appears to be struggling with a “pipeline” and “ladder” problem: women are both joining at lower rates and progressing at far slower rates than their male counterparts.

Another important finding is that the presence of female trailblazers in these fields, such as foreign ministers Julie Bishop and Marise Payne and Labor’s shadow foreign minister, Penny Wong, may be masking more systemic issues. This may be leading some agencies to becoming complacent, rather than proactive, on gender diversity.




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Women’s pathways to leadership continue to be impeded by institutional obstacles, such as unconscious bias and discrimination built into the cultures of these sectors, as well as difficulties in supporting staff on overseas postings. For instance, the report notes that in 2017 the government cut assistance packages for overseas officers, including government childcare subsidies. This has gendered ramifications given that women continue to do the bulk of domestic labour.

As such, the most important and high-prestige international postings are still largely dominated by men. DFAT’s Women in Leadership Strategy has proved successful in meeting initial targets for improving women’s representation, however the industry as a whole has not yet followed suit.

Further, it is not enough to just consider how many women there are, but what roles they occupy, given that women have often been siloed into “soft policy” or corporate areas and out of key operational roles needed for career progression.

The report also draws attention to the marginalisation of women from key policy-shaping activities.

From the study’s research on declared authorship, a woman is yet to be selected to lead on any major foreign policy, defence, intelligence, or trade white paper, inquiry or independent review.




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We would mention a few exceptions of women in other high-profile foreign policy roles – Heather Smith’s stewardship of the G20 during Australia’s presidency and Harinder Sidhu’s leadership in the crucial India High Commission. We would also note the contribution of Jane Duke to the ASEAN Summit in Sydney.

Rebecca Skinner has served as associate defence secretary since 2017 and Justine Grieg was appointed deputy secretary defence people in 2018. Major General Cheryl Pearce was also appointed commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus – the first Australian woman to command a UN peacekeeping mission.

Cheryl Pearce was commander of the Australian joint task force group in Afghanistan before taking up her current role.
Paul Miller/AAP

While the under-representation of women in international affairs remains a core concern, we would argue the report could have taken a broader look at gender representation in foreign affairs-focused academic communities, think tanks and publishing industries, as well.

Many of these organisations have similarly woeful records when it comes to gender diversity. For instance, Australian Foreign Affairs magazine has been criticised for the lack of women authors it publishes. We know that it is not for lack of credible voices, but rather seems indicative of a systematic form of marginalisation of women within the wider foreign affairs community.

Bright spots for gender diversity

However, there is some cause for optimism. For instance, our current PhD project is documenting the gender make-up of leaders and internationally deployed representatives in the departments of foreign affairs and trade, defence and home affairs, as well as the Australian Federal Police. As of this January, women represented 39.5% of those in the senior executive service in DFAT, and 41.4% of those employed as heads of Australian embassies and high commissions globally.

Further, we’ve found an increase recently in the number of women who work in diplomatic defence roles. While the Lowy report notes that women held just 11% of international roles in defence in 2016 (it is unclear exactly what international roles they are talking about), we found a slightly higher percentage of women (19%) currently employed in defence attaché roles.




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The achievements made in this sphere are not just limited to gender either, with women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds forming an important and growing part of representation.

In fact, a more in-depth analysis of the Lowy report’s data would have produced some very interesting, and more nuanced, findings. For instance, foreign affairs has long been the preserve of men, however it has also been the preserve of certain types of men. Diplomacy remains a bastion of prestige, social class, heteronormativity, and in Australia, Anglo-Saxon privilege. It was only last year, for example, that Australia’s first Indigenous woman, Julie-Ann Guivarra, was appointed ambassador (to Spain).

Overall, as the report outlines, gender equality is not just nice to have, nor is it a marginal issue in foreign policy. Rather, the findings are clear: addressing the continued gender gaps are imperative to Australian foreign policy, national security and stability.

We can, and must, do better. Australian foreign policy needs good ideas, and it needs a lot of them. We cannot assume they will all come from the same place.The Conversation

Susan Harris Rimmer, Australian Research Council Future Fellow, Griffith Law School, Griffith University and Elise Stephenson, PhD Candidate, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

With China’s swift rise as naval power, Australia needs to rethink how it defends itself


China has always had a formidable army, but only since 1996 has it begun to develop as a maritime power.
Wu Hong/EPA

Hugh White, Australian National University

As China grows more powerful and influential, we’re publishing a series, The New Superpower, looking at what this means for the world – how China maintains its power, how it wields its power and how its power might be threatened.


Visiting Wellington in April 1996, I fell into conversation with a very wise and experienced New Zealand government official. We talked about the still-unfolding Taiwan Straits crisis, during which Washington had deployed a formidable array of naval power, including two aircraft carrier battle groups, to the waters around Taiwan. The aim was to compel China to abandon a series of missile firings near Taiwan intended to intimidate voters in forthcoming presidential elections.

In this, the Americans had clearly been successful, but my Kiwi friend was worried.

Success has consequences, and the consequences here are plain: the Chinese will now do whatever it takes to make sure the Americans can never do that to them again.

That remark sparked one of the trains of thought which led to the arguments in my new book, How to Defend Australia.

His remark has been proved right. China has always had a formidable army, but only since 1996 has it begun to develop as a maritime power, as well. In that time, it has made massive and, it seems, very effective investments in the air and naval forces required to fight at sea.




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Today, it is quite plainly the world’s second maritime power, behind only the United States. And it now threatens America’s maritime preponderance in the western Pacific, on which US strategic primacy in the region ultimately and absolutely depends.

This is a remarkable achievement in such a short time, with immense implications for the security of countries throughout the region, so it is important to be clear about how it has happened and what it means, including for our own defence.

This is especially important because China’s achievement has been largely misunderstood by traditional naval powers like America, Britain and Australia, whose approach to maritime strategy is markedly different from China’s.

Was the visit last month by Chinese warship to Sydney Harbour a ‘reciprocal visit’, as Scott Morrison explained, or a show of force?
Bianca De Marchi/AAP

China’s ‘sea denial’ strategy

When it comes to maritime strategy, traditional naval powers emphasise “sea control” and power projection. This means their maritime forces are designed primarily to defend major platforms like aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships, with which they aim to project power against distant adversaries.

China’s primary strategic aim has been the opposite. It has developed its naval forces to prevent adversaries – particularly the United States – from projecting power against China the way the Americans did in 1996. This is what naval strategists call “sea denial”, which boils down simply to the capacity to find and sink the other side’s ships.

In doing this, the Chinese have had three big advantages:

  • First, they have been able to exploit inherent advantages of “sea denial” over “sea control”. Since the late 19th century, a whole range of systems, weapons and technologies – including radio, radar, aircraft, submarines, sea mines, torpedoes, guided missiles and space-based surveillance – have made it progressively easier to find and sink an adversary’s ships, and correspondingly harder to defend them.

  • Second, the Chinese were able to access an array of Soviet military technologies and develop them further as their own technological base expanded and deepened.

  • And third, they have had a lot of money to spend, without breaking the bank, thanks to their fast-growing economy.




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As a result, Beijing is now well-placed to prevent America doing again what it did in 1996. A US naval carrier approaching Taiwan today would be at serious risk of attack from China’s formidable ships, aircraft and submarines, as well as from its notorious, carrier-killer, land-based ballistic missiles.

So much so, in fact, that Washington would now be very unlikely to risk such an operation.

China’s navy is now only second to the US in terms of strength.
Bianca De Marchi/AAP

America’s loss of military might

This comes as a surprise to those who still believe that America’s military is unchallengeable.

Of course, it is still very powerful, with an unmatched capacity to deploy and sustain armed forces far from its own shores. But that doesn’t mean it can automatically defeat any adversary it faces, especially when that adversary enjoys the advantages of fighting on its home ground, as Russia would, for example, in a war over Ukraine or the Baltic states, or China would in east Asia.

And wiser heads in the US military establishment understand this all too well. The Pentagon’s recent Indo-Pacific strategy report concedes that China is “likely to enjoy a local military advantage at the onset of conflict” in east Asia.

In fact, that understates the problem. America has no credible military strategy to overcome China’s “early local advantages” to achieve the kind of swift, low-cost victory in a potential war at sea that everyone has taken for granted for so long.

The only serious attempt to develop such a strategy – the US military’s “Air Sea Battle Concept” – was abandoned soon after it was promulgated six years ago. The reality today is that America relies on the implicit threat of nuclear escalation, embodied in its refusal to rule out using nuclear weapons first, to compel China to concede victory when US conventional forces cannot.

And how credible is that threat when China can retaliate against any nuclear attack with a nuclear counter-strike?




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This swift shift in Asia’s maritime strategic balance has profound implications for the region’s strategic future. It does not just undermine America’s ability to defend Taiwan from Chinese military pressure, it undermines the credibility of US security guarantees to all its allies in the western Pacific, including Australia.

And that, in turn, undermines the foundation of America’s strategic leadership in east Asia, and paves the way for China to take its place – just as China intends.

It is this major change in the regional military balance, along with China’s relative economic weight, which makes the rapid eclipse of the old US-led order in our region now so likely.

China’s new maritime challenge

As this happens, however, China faces a new strategic challenge. Its cost-effective maritime denial strategy has been enough to undermine US regional primacy, but it will not be enough to take America’s place and establish dominance of its own in east Asia.

For that, it will need to be able to project its own military power across the vast expanse of the Asia-Pacific region. And that requires China to build its own carriers and amphibious forces – as it is now doing – and expand its capabilities to defend them from future potential adversaries.

This poses a whole new problem for China because now the boot is on the other foot. China has been able to leverage the inherent advantages of “sea denial” over “sea control” to counter US power projection in the region, but future adversaries can do the same to thwart China’s own power projection.

And that has very important implications for Australia’s future defence strategies.




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The bad news is that we can no longer depend on America to ensure that a major power like China does not threaten us militarily in the decades ahead, or to defend us if one does. We must therefore explore – more seriously than we have ever done before – whether we can defend ourselves from a major Asian power.

It is a daunting task, but the good news, as I argue in my book, is that we can exploit the advantages of maritime denial over maritime control against China if it tries to project its power against us, or our close neighbours by sea.

By rigorously optimising our forces for a maritime denial strategy, we might be able to sustain an effective defence against a major power. That would come at a high price – much higher than we are paying for defence now – but it is a price we could afford if we decided the risks we face in Asia in the future were high enough to justify it.

Are they? That’s the big defence debate we need to have now.The Conversation

Hugh White, Emeritus Professor of Strategic Studies at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

With climate change likely to sharpen conflict, NZ balances pacifist traditions with defence spending


New Zealand’s military aircraft are used for disaster relief, such as following a series of earthquakes in Sulawesi in 2018.
EPA/Holti Simanjuntak, CC BY-ND

David Belgrave, Massey University

In most countries, the question of whether to produce guns or butter is a metaphor for whether a country should put its efforts into defence or well-being. In New Zealand, this debate is much more literal and has been won easily by butter.

Dairy exports made up around 5.6% of New Zealand’s GDP in 2018 while defence spending only accounted for around 1.1%, with the tiny local defence industry adding little to that total.

Relative geostrategic isolation means New Zealand’s security has been more about ensuring global trade routes stay open for exports, like butter. But climate change is now challenging that notion as environmental change is expected to generate instability in the South Pacific.

While the government doesn’t expect core day-to-day defence spending to increase over the next few years, as much as NZ$20 billion will need to be spent on new equipment.

Replacing ageing equipment

Big ticket items such as warships and military aircraft last for decades and purchases are often years in the planning. Platforms purchased for the New Zealand military, including some acquired during the Vietnam War, are now reaching the end of their life.

New Zealand is facing significant bills as major aircraft, ships and army vehicles will need to be purchased in the next few years. The timing is particularly awkward for the government as it is shifting its spending towards well-being.




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To manage this problem the government has released its Defence Capability Plan 2019, which outlines its NZ$20 billion shopping list to resource the military into the 2030s.

The first purchase to come consists of new C-130J-30 Super Hercules transport planes. They will replace the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s existing C-130s which are now more than 50 years old. At the time of writing, all five of these planes have been grounded due to maintenance problems. A major justification for the upgrades is greater need for a variety of relief, monitoring and peacekeeping missions caused by the effects of climate change.

A recent New Zealand Defence Force report warned that extreme weather patterns will threaten water, food and energy security in the region and shortages could spark violence. New Zealand’s military provides humanitarian aid and disaster relief in the Pacific and the climate crisis is shifting the rationale for defence spending and the politics of defence in general.

Criticism from the opposition National Party has been less about the plan and more about whether it fits with the government’s overall well-being approach. But the real flak has come from the coalition government’s Green Party support partner.

This shows the complexity of defence politics in New Zealand, as different political parties represent distinct strands of public opinion on the role of the military.

Balancing pacifist and martial traditions

The last 50 years have seen significant disagreement over how the country should engage with the rest of the world and what it should do with its military in particular. Decisions over big purchases and overseas deployments can open up major divisions over New Zealand’s strategic identity.

New Zealand’s strong martial and pacifist traditions are both represented in the current government and major defence decisions have to be made with care.
Jacinda Ardern’s coalition is managing this complex balancing act. The coalition is made up of the centre-left Labour Party and the moderately populist New Zealand First Party, with the Green Party providing confidence and supply.

NZ First is the strongest supporter of the country’s martial traditions. It has always had a hawkish attitude towards China, which has become more relevant in recent years.




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While Labour is generally seen as more dovish than the National Party, the differences have been largely over tone rather than substance. Attitudes towards anti-nuclear policies, the scrapping of the RNZAF fighter wing, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq have been major points of difference in the past.

Labour has generally differentiated itself by being slightly more willing to criticise allies and placing more faith in collective security, the United Nations and disarmament.

To limit criticism that it is spending on “tanks not teachers”, Ardern’s coalition has skilfully outsourced the job of replacing ageing defence equipment to NZ First’s minister of defence Ron Mark. It was probably no coincidence that last year’s announcement that NZ$2.3 billion would be spent on new maritime patrol aircraft was made by NZ First leader Winston Peters while Ardern was on maternity leave.

Ardern has let NZ First claim the political credit and take the political risk with expensive defence replacements, lest they take the shine off Labour’s focus on social policies. That balancing was on show again last week when Ardern announced that New Zealand was ending its military training deployment to Iraq.

Pacifism in the age of climate change

By sitting outside cabinet, the Greens are able to represent the pacifist end of the political spectrum. The party has its roots in the Values Party of the 1970s, which helped make anti-nuclear attitudes mainstream in New Zealand and, by 1984, Labour Party policy.

The party’s defence spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman described the transport plane purchase as “war making capability” when New Zealand is good at humanitarian aid delivery, monitoring and supporting Antarctic research. She reconfirmed the Green Party’s commitment to peacekeeping through the UN.

This attitude is problematic as it forgets that the tools for war fighting are the same as those for peacekeeping and disaster relief. As the focus of Green movements worldwide has shifted to climate change, the commitment to disarmament is becoming more at odds with the realities of climate change. Rising sea levels, crop failures and mass migration will be massively destabilising to the international system.

It is not tenable to criticise the purchase of aircraft that will be largely used to send relief missions to the Pacific, scientists to Antarctica and peacekeepers to UN missions, simply because they could be used to send soldiers into combat. The challenge for the Greens will be to find a coherent message on the military that tackles the climate crisis and represents the views of its pacifist base.

The challenge for New Zealand’s allies will be to understand and respect how these contradictory threads of New Zealand’s strategic culture direct and constrain its defence spending.The Conversation

David Belgrave, Lecturer in Politics and Citizenship, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A state actor has targeted Australian political parties – but that shouldn’t surprise us



File 20190218 56243 para1s.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Prime Minister Morrison said there was no evidence of electoral interference linked to a hack of the Australian Parliament House computer network.
from www.shutterstock.com

Tom Sear, UNSW

The Australian political digital infrastructure is a target in an ongoing nation state cyber competition which falls just below the threshold of open conflict.

Today Prime Minister Scott Morrison made a statement to parliament, saying:

The Australian Cyber Security Centre recently identified a malicious intrusion into the Australian Parliament House computer network.

During the course of this work, we also became aware that the networks of some political parties – Liberal, Labor and the Nationals – have also been affected.




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‘State actor’ makes cyber attack on Australian political parties


But cyber measures targeting Australian government infrastructure are the “new normal”. It’s the government response which is the most unique thing about this recent attack.

The new normal

The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) – which incorporates the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) – analyses and responds to cyber security threats.

In January ASD identified in a report that across the three financial years (2015-16 to 2017-18) there were 1,097 cyber incidents affecting unclassified and classified government networks which were “considered serious enough to warrant an operational response.”

These figures include all identified intrusions. The prime minister fingered a “sophisticated state actor” for the activity discussed today.

Cyber power states capable of adopting “sophisticated” measures might include the United States, Israel, Russia, perhaps Iran and North Korea. Suspicion currently falls on China.

Advanced persistent threats

Cyber threat actors with such abilities are often identified by a set of handles called Advanced Persistent Threat or APTs.

An APT is a group with a style. They are identifiable by the type of malware (malicious software) they like to deploy, their methods and even their working hours.

For example APT28 is associated with Russian measures to interfere with the 2016 US election

Some APTs have even been publicly traced by cyber security companies to specific buildings in China.

APT1 or Unit 61398 may be linked to the intrusions against the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and possibly the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Unit 61398 has been traced to a non-descript office building in Shanghai.

The advance in APT refers to the “sophistication” mentioned by the PM.




Read more:
How we trace the hackers behind a cyber attack


New scanning tool released

The ACSC today publicly released a “scanning tool, configured to search for known malicious web shells that we have encountered in this investigation.”

The release supports this being called a state sponsored intrusion. A web shell is an exploitation vector often used by APTs which enables an intruder to execute wider network compromise. A web shell is uploaded to a web server remotely, and then an adversary can leverage other techniques like privileges and issue commands. A webshell is a form of a malware.

One well-known shell called “China Chopper” is delivered by a small web application, and then is able to “brute force” password guessing against the authentication portal.

If such malware was used in this incident, this explains why politicians and those working at Australian Parliament House were asked to change their passwords following the latest incident.

Journalism and social media surrounding incidents such as these pivot on speculation of how it could be an adversary state, and who that might be.

Malware and its deployment is close to a signature of an APT and requires teams to deliver and subsequently monitor. That the ACSC has released such a specific scanning tool is a clue why they and the prime minister can make such claims.

An intrusion of Australian Parliament House is symbolically powerful, but whether any actual data was taken at an unclassified level might not be of great intelligence import.

The prime minister’s announcement today suggests Australian political parties have been exposed.

How elections are hacked

In 2018 I detailed how there are a few options for an adversary seeking to “hack” an election.




Read more:
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: Australia should stay away from electronic voting


The first is to “go loud” and undermine the public’s belief in the players, the process, or the outcome itself. This might involve stealing information from a major party, for example, and then anonymously leaking it.

Or it might mean attacking and changing the data held by the Australian Electoral Commission or the electoral rolls each party holds. This would force the agency to publicly admit a concern, which in turn would undermine confidence in the system.

This is likely why today the prime minister said in his statement:

I have instructed the Australian Cyber Security Centre to be ready to provide any political party or electoral body in Australia with immediate support, including making their technical experts available.

They have already briefed the Electoral Commissions and those responsible for cyber security for all states and territories.

They have also worked with global anti-virus companies to ensure Australia’s friends and allies have the capacity to detect this malicious activity.

Vulnerability of political parties

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s response alluded to what might be another concern of our security and electoral agencies. He said:

… our party political structures perhaps are more vulnerable. Political parties are small organisations with only a few full-time staff, they collect, store and use large amounts of information about voters and communities.

I have previously suggested the real risk to any election is the manipulation of social media, and a more successful and secretive campaign to alter the outcome of the Australian election might focus on a minor party.

An adversary could steal the membership and donor database and electoral roll of a party with poor security, locate the social media accounts of those people, and then slowly use social media manipulations to influence an active, vocal group of voters.

Shades of grey

This is unlikely to have been the first attempt by a “sophisticated state actor” to target networks of Australian political parties. It’s best not to consider such intrusions as if they “did or didn’t work.”

There are shades of grey.

Adversaries clearly penetrated a key network and then leveraged access into others. But the duration of such a presence or whether they are even still in a network is challenging to ascertain. Equally, the government has not suggested data has been removed.

Recognition but no data theft may be a result of improved security awareness at parliament house and in party networks. The government and its administration have been taking action.

The Department of Parliamentary Services – that supplies ICT to parliament house – has improved security in “network design changes to harden the internal ICT network against cyber attack”.

This month a Joint Committee opened a new inquiry into government resilience following a report from the National Audit Office last year which found “relatively low levels of effectiveness of Commonwealth entities in managing cyber risks”.

Government response is what’s new

As the ASD and my own observation has noted, this is likely not the first intrusion of this kind – it may be an APT with more “sophisticated” malware than previous attempts. But the response and fall out from the government is certainly new.

What is increasingly clear is that attribution has become more possible, and especially within alliance structures in the Five Eyes intelligence network – Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States – more common.

Sometimes in cyber security it’s challenging to tell the difference between the noise and signal. The persistent presence of Russian sponsored trolls in Australian online politics, the blurring of digital borders with China and cyber enabled threats to our democratic infrastructure: these are not new.

Australia is not immune to the new immersive information war. Digital border protection might yet become an issue in the 2019 election. In addition to raising concerns our politicians and cyber security agencies will need to develop a strong and clear strategic communication approach to both the Australian public and our adversaries as these incidents escalate.The Conversation

Tom Sear, PhD Candidate, UNSW Canberra Cyber, Australian Defence Force Academy, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia’s spies to be allowed to use more force


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government is moving to give Australia’s overseas spies extra
powers to protect themselves and their operations by the use of force.

Legislation to be introduced on Thursday will allow a staff member or
agent of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) to be able
to use “reasonable force” in the course of their work.

It also will enable the Foreign Minister to specify extra people, such
as a hostage, who may be protected by an ASIS staffer or agent.

It is understood the changes have been discussed with the opposition
and are likely to receive its support.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne says in a statement that ASIS officers
often work in dangerous areas including under warlike conditions. “As
the world becomes more complex, the overseas operating environment for
ASIS also becomes more complex”, she says.

The provisions covering the use of force by ASIS have not undergone
significant change since 2004.

“Currently, ASIS officers are only able to use weapons for
self-protection, or the protection of other staff members or agents
cooperating with ASIS.

“The changes will mean officers are able to protect a broader range of
people and use reasonable force if someone poses a risk to an operation”, Payne says.

“Like the existing ability to use weapons for self-defence, these
amendments will be an exception to the standing prohibitions against
the use of violence or use of weapons by ASIS.”

There are presently legal grey areas in relation to using force,
especially the use of reasonable and limited force to restrain, detain
or move a person who might pose a risk to an operation or to an ASIS
staff member.

Under the amendment the use of force would only apply where there was
a significant risk to the safety of a person, or a threat
to security or a risk to the operational security of ASIS.
Any use of force would have to be proportionate.

The government instances as an example the keeping safe of an
uncooperative person from a source of immediate danger during an ASIS
operation, including by removing them from the danger.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Building our own warships is Australia’s path to the next industrial revolution


Giselle Rampersad, Flinders University

Naval defence procurement is very big business. Nine Hunter-class frigates will cost Australian taxpayers A$35 billion; the 12 submarines to replace the existing Collins-class subs at least A$50 billion.

Although both the frigates and submarines will be built by foreign companies – the frigates by Britain’s BAE, the subs by France’s Naval Group – part of the deal is that they build locally.

The federal government isn’t shy about spruiking the local economic benefits.
“We make no apologies for deciding to invest in Australian-built ships, creating Australian jobs and using Australian steel,” said Christopher Pyne, the then defence industry minster and now the defence minister, in May.

There are critics. The Australian National Audit Office, for instance, has flagged the risks of cost blowouts in a local build. These risks will need to be proactively managed.

But the local shipbuilding program does present a tremendous economic opportunity. It provides a platform to invigorate advanced manufacturing and ride the wave of the next industrial revolution.

We need to focus on how to maximise the benefits by leveraging the program to create competitive new industries and jobs.

Mapping the manufacturing ecosystem

Transitioning the Australian economy towards advanced manufacturing is not easy. It is tempting to simply import cheaper products. A good example can found in the renewable energy sector. With a few exceptions, the majority of solar panels and wind farm components are imported. This is a missed opportunity.




Read more:
On windmills and warships


We can avoid making the same mistake in shipbuilding. Our research shows that building ships locally has huge flow-on effects, and can help underpin other advanced manufacturing.

To facilitate this process, we have developed a map of the advanced manufacturing ecosystem in Australia. The aim is to help boost the visibility of Australian organisations capable of supplying components or services to these projects.

An emerging defence innovation ecosystem in Australia, with business, university, government and other key stakeholders.

This will assist in initiating partnerships. Several Australian businesses and universities have already begun to secure relationships with the international shipbuilders. More are in the pipeline.

Industry opportunities

Building ships presents many opportunities for Australian organisations.

In Australia, X-ray and imaging products are examples of complex products we have been able to competitively export. This technology is obviously relevant to medical imaging devices. It can also be applied to surveillance systems for the defence sector.

Conversely local manufacturers that develop capabilities in defence shipbuilding can leverage their expertise to supply to non-defence-related supply chains and for export.

Relevant technologies include autonomous vehicles and systems, energy management, cyber-security, robust and maintainable materials, acoustics and digital technologies. These technologies can have flow-on effects for advanced manufacturing in transport, renewables, health, space and information technology.

In these sectors, making complex products is vital for competitiveness.

Anchoring industry 4.0

It is wrong to think advanced manufacturing is not viable in Australia. Britain and Germany are two economies with high labour costs, yet both have been able to sustain manufacturing sectors.

The success of advanced manufacturers in Europe is based on an approach called industry 4.0. The “4” refers to the advent of the fourth industrial revolution since the 18th century – integrating information and communication technology in industrial production.

During a visit to European manufacturing sites we saw how this involved the use of robots, cobots (or collaborative robots), digital twins and driverless vehicles.




Read more:
Does the next industrial revolution spell the end of manufacturing jobs?


Automation means that shipbuilding will not provide the sorts of jobs it did in the past. In Germany’s automotive industry, for example, human labour that cost 40 euros an hour has been replaced by robots that cost 5-8 euros an hour to operate – even cheaper than a Chinese worker. But other other jobs have been created, particularly in computing and engineering. There are now 100,000 more jobs in Germany’s auto industry than in 2010.

Another feature of industry 4.0 is digitisation of the supply chain. Information about parts can be captured and used in new ways. When a component needs be serviced or replaced can now be predicted with high accuracy. This is important in any large ship, built to be operational for decades and using vast numbers of components from thousands of suppliers. It’s even more important in a naval ships, where a breakdown could be catastrophic.

Digital transformation will make our factories more competitive. Additionally, economic gains will come from defence procurement that encourages the local development of complex and competitive products. If done well, defence investment will make as powerful a contribution to the nation’s economic prosperity as its military security.The Conversation

Giselle Rampersad, Associate Professor in Innovation, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

With China-US tensions on the rise, does Australia need a new defence strategy?



File 20181120 161621 1g1rmsp.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
China’s rising influence in the region has alarmed many defence experts. But the question remains: would Australia ever need to fight China on its own?
Joel Carrett/AAP

Greg Raymond, Australian National University

There is no evidence that China has ever contemplated using its nuclear weapons to coerce another state. Instead, China has maintained a “no first use policy” on nuclear weapons. Surprising as it may sound to many, China wants to build an image of itself as a responsible power.

But the fact remains that China could threaten to use those weapons to force the Australian government into, say, ceasing its patrols of the South China Sea, regardless of the much-debated US “nuclear umbrella” in East Asia.

This is the reality that Australian defence planners have lived with for some 50 years. Australian defence force planning has long accepted the premise that our self-reliance needs to be viewed within an alliance context. As recently as 2009, the government plainly conceded that the Australian Defence Force was not expected to deal with a situation:

…where we were under threat from a major power whose military capabilities were simply beyond our capacity to resist.

In such a situation, we don’t expect to be alone.

This point is important to bear in mind when we consider recent discussions of a “Plan B” to strengthen Australia’s defence posture.




Read more:
Australia and China push the ‘reset’ button on an important relationship


Commentators have suggested recently that Australia’s strategic risk is increasing and the A$195 billion defence spending plan announced in the 2016 Defence White Paper is now insufficient.

Australian taxpayers would certainly be interested to know why a plan that doubles our submarine fleet, significantly expands our navy and adds 100 of the most advanced and expensive combat aircraft ever invented would now be seen as insufficient.

The answer lies in the shifting strategic landscape in the Asia-Pacific region, which has led to greater concerns about China’s long-term intentions and rising tensions between China and the US. So what exactly has changed?

China’s recent activities in the region

Since the last Defence White Paper in 2016, Australian defence observers have been alarmed by four things:

  • China’s rejection of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling that deemed its nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea illegal

  • China’s conversion of its South China Sea artificial islands into military bases, which was largely complete by the end of 2016, despite a pledge President Xi Jinping gave then-President Barack Obama that China had “no intention to militarise” the islands

  • reports in April of this year that China was establishing partnerships with Pacific nations like Vanuatu for potential future military bases and other arrangements

  • the election of Donald Trump as US president and the uncertainty this has brought to the region due to his disparaging of traditional alliances and disdain for multilateral institutions

These events have occurred against a backdrop of China’s rapidly expanding global footprint. This includes the establishment of its first overseas military base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, and its growing access to regional ports such as the controversial Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, which the Sri Lankan government ceded to Beijing on a 99-year lease.

President Xi Jinping has rapidly expanded China’s presence in the Pacific region in recent years.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

These regional shifts have also come amid growing illiberalism in China, evidence of increasing Chinese intelligence and influence operations in Australia (especially the Dastyari affair) and bullying behaviour from Chinese officials in their meetings with Australian politicians.

In addition, Trump appears to mark a significant break with the strategic priorities of previous US administrations. He’s threatened to walk away from America’s support for the traditional allies and global trade institutions that have characterised US foreign policy since the Second World War. This has put unprecedented distance between the United States and Australia, which as a middle power needs healthy global institutions.




Read more:
Australia’s naval upgrade may not be enough to keep pace in a fast-changing region


But on China, it’s different. The Trump administration and importantly, the US security apparatus, share Australia’s darkening view of China to the point we may now be seeing a new Cold War developing in the region.

Case in point: the recent announcement of US participation in the development of a joint naval base with Australia on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. This is clear evidence of the US’s new willingness to compete with China and a signal the US wants to dispel the uncertainty left in the region in the wake of Obama’s problematic “pivot” to Asia.

Assessing the risks for Australia

In assessing whether Australia needs a steep increase in its defence spending, there are two questions we must ask: Firstly, what regional developments could the 2016 Defence White Paper not have anticipated? And of these, which equate to risks that increased defence spending can obviate?

Our defence planners have been well aware since at least 2009 of China’s gradually modernising defence forces and steadily growing navy. China’s moves toward a blue-water fleet, including new carriers and cruisers, were also well understood in 2016.

While the artificial islands in the South China Sea were still being built, their eventual militarisation was also anticipated by Australian defence leaders, despite China’s protestations to the contrary.

But even knowing all of this, Australia’s defence planners essentially decided in the 2016 White Paper to continue with the “Force 2030” force structure they envisaged in 2009. There have been some additions like shore-based anti-ship missiles, but our plan has largely been focused on enablers – that is, the capability to make the force operate with greater certainty, precision and coordination. Importantly, this White Paper did not envisage Australia fighting China on its own.




Read more:
The risks of a new Cold War between the US and China are real: here’s why


Of the strategic developments involving China since 2016 – from the revelations of its influence operations to its new-found interest in the Pacific – the question defence planners should now be asking is whether any undermine the fundamental judgements of the 2016 White Paper. Do they point to a need to radically change Australia’s defence posture?

Combating China’s illicit influence in Australia is being dealt with through our stronger foreign influence laws. Offsetting China’s influence in the Pacific will be best undertaken through Australia’s aid and diplomatic programs.

This leaves the big question of the role of the US in the Asia-Pacific region – the most critical of defence planning factors. Will Australia be left on its own in the foreseeable future?

And here we must observe that despite Trump’s anti-alliance rhetoric, the American force posture in the Western Pacific actually remains unchanged. There have been no base closures and no force draw-downs as of yet from the bases encircling China in Guam, Japan and South Korea, though Trump has threatened this.

Mike Pence signaled a harder US stance towards China in a speech last month, saying: ‘We will not stand down.’
Fazry Ismail/EPA

Moreover, the hardening US view against China means a likely strengthening of its Asia-Pacific posture under the new National Security Statement, the cardinal US security policy document.

In fact, the US is now expanding its presence in the region with the announcement of the new joint naval base on Manus Island. The US also recently put its nuclear deterrence guarantee to Australia in writing for the first time in history. And the American Marine build-up in Darwin continues.

Although China’s military advances are making the task of possibly defeating its navy more challenging, the fact remains that it will be a long time before it’s able to start a war with the US confident of victory. The US also seems unwilling to leave China to dominate Asia.

In these circumstances, would China use its forces against other countries in the region, like Australia, without the US getting involved? In my view it could not.

Therefore, while every responsible government should continue to assess defence planning and ensure appropriate levels of readiness, the case for a sharply increased defence spending plan is not at this point compelling.The Conversation

Greg Raymond, Research fellow, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia’s naval upgrade may not be enough to keep pace in a fast-changing region



File 20181017 17692 1324noo.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
As part of Australia’s naval upgrade, construction of 12 future submarines will start around 2022-23.
Brendan Esposito/AAP

Chris Barrie, Australian National University

Last year, Professor Roger Bradbury and I questioned whether or not there was an unacceptable risk of the world “sleepwalking” into war.

We cited as reasons to be concerned a lack of strong and principled leadership, the problem of a rising power contesting other major powers for influence, the rise of nationalism, and the ineffectiveness of the UN Security Council in managing conflict situations. And we said:

the peaceful domain in the landscape shrinks rapidly as risk aversion decreases, such that, at low risk aversion, even low levels of hawkishness can drive countries to war

So, in the aftermath of US Vice President Mike Pence’s recent and provocative speech to the Hudson Institute in which the US laid down the gauntlet to China over many issues, it seems timely to look at Australia’s naval shipbuilding enterprise and our readiness for the future if conflict does someday break out in our region.

Slow-moving and complacent

I have been watching developments in defence circles since the release of a series of white papers on defence in 2016.

From a naval perspective, the major thrust of these developments seems to have produced significant changes in how Australia is approaching its capability needs over the next 30 years.




Read more:
Why does Australia need submarines at all?


But, in a comparative sense, we seem slow-moving and complacent in our decision-making and lack the agility to keep up with the times.

Why do I make this point?

In May 2017, the Coalition government released its Naval Shipbuilding Plan. The government announced it was embarking on a large shipbuilding enterprise to equip the nation to meet future challenges. Its vision is:

to deliver and sustain modern, capable naval vessels, on time and on budget, maximising Australian industry involvement and contributing to a secure and prosperous future for our nation.

The Turnbull government’s shipbuilding plan may not be adequate in a constantly shifting region.
David Mariuz/AAP

In summary, the plan included:

  • A rolling acquisition program to produce a new submarine fleet at the Osborne Naval Shipyard in South Australia. Construction of 12 future submarines will commence around 2022-23. The last submarine to enter service will be delivered in the early 2050s. This plan means the present Collins class submarines will have to remain in service until the late 2030s. There would also be no capability gap (with at least two serviceable submarines available for operations at all times).

  • The construction of nine future frigates would commence in 2020, also at the Osborne Naval Shipyard. The last of these frigates will be delivered in 2039. These ships would allow us to create surface task groups comprising one air warfare destroyer and three frigates able to be deployed quickly, with a second surface task group able to be deployed at no more than 90 days notice for up to six months. These measures could enable us to operate in two separate geographic areas at the same time.

  • A continuous build program for minor naval vessels that was to begin with the Pacific patrol boat replacement project in 2017 at the Henderson Maritime Precinct in Western Australia and the construction of 12 offshore patrol vessels. Construction of the first two offshore patrol vessels will begin in 2018. The remainder will be built at the start of the future frigate project, with the final vessel delivered in 2030.

The key to successful delivery and sustainment of our “enhanced” naval capabilities will be a coherent national approach formed through strategic partnerships with the defence industry, state and territory governments, foreign allies and other suitable partners, commercial enterprises, academics, and science and technology research organisations.

Adequate force for a changing region?

Earlier this month, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute released a report about submarines detailing many of the problems yet to be solved in maintaining our current naval capability and simultaneously constructing a future fleet of 12 submarines.

The plan certainly looks challenging enough, but is it even adequate to meet our needs now – and in the future?

I note, for example, that the new naval surface fleet will deliver about the same level of capability that Australia has had since I joined the Navy in 1961 – one surface task group of four ships. But in 1961, we also had the possibility of adding to the mix the power of a small aircraft carrier.

To assess the adequacy of our current plans, we need to look ahead to what our region will look like in 2050.

In a snapshot: there will be an estimated 5.3 billion people in the Asia-Pacific region. Indonesia will have about 321 million people and a defence budget equal to ours. Australia’s population is expected to reach 33 million, just 0.6% of the total regional population.

And, we have little idea where China will be positioned by that time!




Read more:
Is the world really sleepwalking to war? Systems thinking can provide an answer


Given these circumstances, will we have the assets to meet our needs if conflict does arise, or if there is a period of escalating tensions?

The size of our force structure has been limited since 1945. But, if war were to break out, the numbers we have been thinking about in our current naval programs will be at the low end of our needs.

From this strategic perspective, there are a range of questions:

  • Will these plans deliver sufficient capability in time to meet significant strategic challenges?

  • Will our shipbuilding enterprise be able to ramp up quickly to deliver more vessels if there is a sudden deterioration in our strategic circumstances?

  • To what extent will we be able to build more vessels that are dependent on systems supplied from other countries?

  • How dependent will these new capabilities be on the provision of spare parts and sophisticated weapons from overseas suppliers?

  • By what measures should we assess that our capability plans are adequate to meet Australia’s needs at any time?

  • And to what extent can the success of our international relationships ameliorate the need to go it alone?

I do not have answers to these questions. I raise them because I think we need to bear them in mind in today’s fast-moving strategic environment.

It’s also important to recognise that our plans require all levels of government, and many foreign governments, to pull together in a clearly defined way.

In addition, our ability to play in the big game in our region and retain a military advantage if conflict does break out depends a lot on the capabilities of our opposing forces. And even here, an analysis of the current situation is not re-assuring.

China’s new Navy

In May, the ANU Strategic and Defence Study Centre published a paper by Sam Roggeveen about China’s new Navy. It’s a reminder of the complexities of the issues that Australia will have to confront over the next three decades and is intended to be a guide for policymakers.

Chinese sailors aboard a PLA Navy frigate in Singapore last year.
Wallace Noon/EPA

According to Andrew Erickson of the US Naval Institute, the Chinese PLA Navy is:

poised to become the world’s second largest navy by 2020, and – if current trends continue – a combat fleet that in overall order of battle is quantitatively and even perhaps qualitatively on a par with that of the US Navy by 2030.

The US naval predominance will continue to erode in north Asia and give way to a multi-polar balance. And in Southeast Asia, China will become predominant.

In addition, China may already be building a “post-American navy” – one designed not to confront US naval predominance in the Pacific, but to inherit it as the US balks at the increasing cost of continued regional leadership.

The final point of China’s naval ambitions is worth emphasising:

China wants a powerful surface fleet to signal to the region and the
world its great-power ambitions, thereby eroding incentives to resist China’s agenda.

US aircraft carriers in the western Pacific. By 2030, the US is no longer expected to be the predominant power in the region.
US Navy/EPA

What can Australia do better?

For policy recommendations, Roggeveen proposes that:

Australia must plan for a future in which its major ally is not the uncontested maritime leader in our region, and in which America’s will to maintain a preeminent place in the region will be severely tested.

Australia should follow China’s example by focusing its maritime force structure on anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities. The plan to double the size of Australia’s submarine fleet is welcome, but given the leaps in Chinese capability, there are major questions around the pace of this program.

Australia cannot pursue an A2/AD strategy without Indonesia’s consent, and preferably its cooperation. Our defence diplomacy should be concentrated on Jakarta.




Read more:
Despite strong words, the US has few options left to reverse China’s gains in the South China Sea


But it is too easy to think that China’s ambitions will be uncontested as the trade war between China and the US unfolds. The presumption about the decline of US power may well be overstated.

Also, China does not yet have global military and naval forces suited to superpower interests, though this could change in the next two decades.

For Australia, this means that we cannot be sure how we should balance our economic interests with our security requirements.

It also suggests we are not planning to do enough in this uncertain climate to assure Australians of a secure future in our region.The Conversation

Chris Barrie, Honorary Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.