Why Australia should face civil lawsuits over soldier misdeeds in Afghanistan


Tim Matthews, University of Sydney and John Eldridge, University of Sydney

For the past two years, Paul Brereton, a New South Wales Supreme Court judge and Army Reserve major general, has been conducting an investigation into the conduct of members of the SAS in Afghanistan. While the findings are not yet known, leaks from within the Australian Defence Force (ADF) have suggested that as many as five cases involving unlawful killings have been uncovered.

Much of the media commentary surrounding the allegations has centred on the potential criminal prosecution of these alleged offences. But a further legal issue can arise from investigations of this kind – the alleged victims (or their families) might bring civil claims against Australia’s armed forces, seeking compensation for their suffering.




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Cases of this kind have occurred in other countries. In the United States, a number of high-profile habeas corpus petitions have been filed against the government by people who claim they were unlawfully detained by US armed forces on suspicion of being insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Claims for damages have also been successfully brought by former Iraqi detainees against private military contractors over their alleged torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

British courts are also currently considering a number of civil suits arising out of British involvement in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One of those claimants, Yunus Rahmatullah, was arrested by British forces in Iraq in 2004 on suspicion of being a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist organisation with links to al-Qaeda. He was “rendered” by British forces to the custody of the US army in Afghanistan, where he was detained for over ten years without charge or trial and, he alleges, tortured.

Rahmatullah denies ever being a member of a terrorist organisation. He has made a well-publicised claim for compensation from the UK government, under the country’s Human Rights Act.

Why are civil claims against soldiers controversial?

We are all exposed to potential civil liability in our day-to-day lives. If we drive negligently and cause an accident, for instance, we may find ourselves liable to pay compensation to those we have harmed. The same is true of public institutions and authorities, such as hospitals and the police. Few would suggest this is unfair or unreasonable.




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Inconsistency bedevils Australia’s prosecution of war criminals


However, the extension of civil liability to the armed forces is controversial. Former Army officer Bill O’Chee, for instance, recently argued forcefully against such liability:

Service personnel who commit crimes are already subject to military criminal proceedings, and this is rightly so. However, exposing them to claims for personal injury claims would be perverse and entirely unjust.

The very idea that highly paid lawyers in comfortable courts in Australia can understand, let alone litigate these cases, is fanciful at best.

How absurd it would be for our servicemen and women to be subjected to damages claims in these circumstances, let alone be asked to find the money for legal costs and a possible damages order against them.

Should these civil claims be permitted?

Such civil liability claims have never been brought against individual ADF personnel in Australia before. This would be new legal territory. And nobody is seriously suggesting these soldiers should personally bear the burden of defending civil claims arising from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Rather, any potential claims are likely to be defended by the Commonwealth.

This is the way civil claims against police officers in Australia are typically resolved. In such cases, individual officers will often be required to give evidence as to their version of events. Yet the costs of defending the case, and the compensation (if any) paid to the plaintiff, are borne not by the individual officers, but by the relevant public authority.

Despite the controversy surrounding them, there are still good reasons to allow civil claims of this kind to proceed.




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First, criminal and civil claims serve different purposes. A successful criminal prosecution may leave a victim with a feeling of vindication, but it typically does not result in monetary compensation. As a result, it may matter little to victims or their families if the soldiers responsible are professionally disciplined, since they may receive no compensation for their loss.

Secondly, the notion that civilian courts are not competent to adjudicate on military matters is seriously problematic.

Nobody could deny that military personnel are forced to carry out their duties in extremely difficult conditions. It is also true that many lawyers and judges have difficulty appreciating the fraught circumstances in which military decision-making occurs.

But the answer to these difficulties is not the abandonment of such claims altogether. Judges are often faced with the task of making difficult decisions about matters on which they are not experts. Civil justice would simply not work if courts threw up their hands whenever they were faced with such challenges.

Greater accountability for the military

Finally, if the Commonwealth were somehow able to avoid liability for potential civil damages in these types of cases, the ADF may have less incentive to conduct military operations in ways that safeguard the rights of civilians caught in conflict zones.

Given the limited accountability for military decision-making in the public sphere, the possibility of accountability in a civil court would promote stricter adherence to international conventions on war.

Many of the victims who may bring claims of this kind are unlikely to excite public sympathy. For example, one of the claimants in the UK cases, Serdar Mohammed, was arrested while leaving a ten-hour firefight with British troops, discarding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and ammunition on his way.

The ConversationBut we shouldn’t allow our moral judgement of claimants like Mohammed to erode our commitment to the rule of law. Public authorities, and especially our armed forces, should be held accountable for their actions to the limits imposed by law.

Tim Matthews, Sessional Academic, Law School, University of Sydney and John Eldridge, Lecturer, Sydney Law School, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Military to get wider role in combatting terrorism



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The ADF’s powers to search, seize and control movement at the scene of an incident will be simplified, expanded and made clearer.
Australian Department of Defence

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Australia’s military forces will be given power to play a bigger part in dealing with terrorist incidents, under legislation to be introduced into parliament on Thursday.

The bill makes it easier for states and territories to seek help from the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to respond to terrorist and other violent occurrences, especially those that stretch the capabilities of state forces. The move was announced by the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in July last year.

The ADF’s powers to search, seize and control movement at the scene of an incident will be simplified, expanded and made clearer. It will also have greater ability to respond to incidents that span more than one jurisdiction.

It will be able to be “pre-authorised” to protect Commonwealth interests and the state and territories from land and maritime threats, in addition to aviation threats. At present the contingent call out is limited to aviation threats.

The changes also add the minister for home affairs to the existing list of those ministers who can have a role in authorising a call out of the ADF in certain circumstances.

The prime minister, attorney-general and defence minister have key roles as authorising ministers. But where the prime minister and one of the attorney-general or defence minister is not available, the remaining minister can authorise a call out jointly with the deputy prime minister, foreign minister, treasurer, or home affairs minister.

The enhanced remit for the defence forces has come out of the Defence Counter-Terrorism Review.

While the government emphasises that the police remain “the best first response to terrorists and other incidents”, Attorney-General Christian Porter said “amendments to the ADF call-out powers are the most significant changes since the provisions were enacted in 2000” before the Sydney Olympics. The “terror threat we face today is greater and more complex than that we faced when these laws were introduced almost 20 years ago”, he said.

Defence minister Marise Payne said Defence had already strengthened the practical support it provided to police, including a broadened program of specialist training and better access to Defence facilities such a rifle ranges.

The latest anti-terrorism legislation comes as, on a different national security front, the Senate is set on Thursday to pass the government’s measures to combat foreign interference, including setting up a register of agents of “foreign principals”.

The measures have bipartisan support after the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security agreed on a range of amendments that have narrowed provisions and inserted protections for bodies such as charities.

Whether the register will capture Chinese non-state companies remains unclear.

Asked about the potential application of the register to Huawei, the chairman of Huawei Australia, John Lord, appearing at the National Press Club on Wednesday, said he didn’t see why he should register “because Huawei’s privately owned, does not have government links other than it’s Chinese. And, therefore, I don’t see why I should.

“However, if at the end of the day the act says something to that effect and the legal advice to Huawei is that we should register, we, Huawei, will have no problems with that and I, John Lord, will have no difficulty whatsoever. If that’s what the government wants, we will do it.”

Lord argued Huawei’s case to be allowed to build the 5G network, amid strong speculation that will be banned from doing so on national security grounds.

He said the 5G decision was not just a tough political one but “this is a long term technology decision that could impact our growth and productivity for generations to come”.

“The suggestions that Huawei, the largest provider of 4G technology in Australia today, should be banned from building 5G networks here should be a concern for everyone and every business in Australia.

The Conversation“The implications about limiting access to technology competition will be devastatingly high – and is a short term small mind choice rather than seeking to incorporate all technologies in a solution that also secures our critical structures”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Accountability is key to building trust in Australia’s intelligence community



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The Sept. 11 attacks and subsequent “war on terror” had a transformative impact on the handling of secrecy and surveillance activities in government programs.
Shutterstock

Daniel Baldino, University of Notre Dame Australia

Intelligence doesn’t have to be, and rarely is, James Bond-esque. Indeed, 007 is the world’s worst spy: everyone knows who he is, meaning he is compromised, exposed and susceptible to blackmail before he even arrives to save the day.

But the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, and the all-encompassing “war on terror” that followed, did have a major transformative impact on the handling of secrecy and surveillance activities in government programs.

One impact has been the growth of executive authority in national security. This has exacerbated demonstrable tensions between civil liberties, trust and secrecy. As noted by former ASIO chief David Irvine, the public will always have some degree of suspicion regarding the secret function of intelligence agencies.




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There is much to be gained by having an electorate better educated in the work of the Australian Intelligence Community (AIC). An informed public is better placed to question or accept the need for Australia’s intelligence agencies. This extends to the merits of expanding budgets, powers, oversight and responsibilities.

A war of choice

In the botched hunt for Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) stockpiles in 2003, the “slam dunk” assessments used to build a preemptive war rationale corroded public confidence in political leadership and the intelligence industry.

The WMD fiasco was accompanied by an inexhaustible antagonism around the world about the role of spies and intelligence agencies.

It is now widely accepted that Iraq has been a strategic disaster. Yet many core public debate points remain conflicted and uncertain. To what extent should an intelligence “failure” be traced back to failings in domestic leadership, a selective approach to intelligence estimates and a culture of political spin that seeks external scapegoats?

Cynicism about the credibility of the intelligence sector has not abated. US President Donald Trump, a conspiracy theorist who famously questioned former President Barack Obama’s citizenship, has maintained his theories into the Oval Office. Trump has both embraced and distorted the term “Deep State”. This emotive term is based on the idea that security elites and institutions are deliberately attempting to undermine (or potentially overthrow) the government. Trump has even claimed that America’s spies are acting like Nazis.

His imagery of a corrupt, rogue and monolithic intelligence bogeyman out to topple him is downright bogus. But its rhetorical simplicity plays into the public’s pre-existing fears about a shadowy political world.




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Why does a president demand loyalty from people who work for him?


At the same time, push-back against Trump’s political tactics and self-serving showmanship doesn’t mean the intelligence community should be immune from criticism and accountability.

The CIA, for instance, has a lengthy history of pushing or breaking moral and legal boundaries in locations such as Latin America. Ditto the Iran-Contra affair.

US intelligence has also been accused of monitoring human rights workers and harassing civil society groups and social dissenters engaged in legitimate political activities.

Likewise, in Australia in 1977, the Hope Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security unearthed deep-seated problems with principles of propriety, including legality, within ASIO.

The end result of inquiries into the actions of the intelligence community often raises more questions than answers, which feeds public mistrust and anxiety about intelligence and the function of government.

As we have matured, successive Australian governments have extended and deepened the responsibilities of the intelligence community. It is imperative that future boundaries set for our intelligence agencies are not crossed. For example, we should ensure that the AIC collects information as needed, not just because it can.

Unnecessary snooping is just one area that speaks to the broader importance of oversight, accountability, and an educated and understanding electorate.

Sunlight as disinfectant

The overall mandate of the AIC is to provide the government with “information” to better enable it to understand the issues confronting it. This, in turn, is meant to facilitate coherent policymaking.

However, good intelligence will not automatically guarantee good policy. Intelligence, after all, is an imperfect science and just one of the tools available to policymakers.

The task of intelligence agencies is not an easy one. Indeed, large budgets, hardworking staff and all the expertise in the world cannot ensure that a threat, or opportunity, will be recognised or acted upon in a timely fashion. Connecting the dots will rarely result in an end-product of absolute certainty.

At the same time, the demands of policymakers should not distort or corrupt intelligence – intelligence must inform policy (not visa versa). Intelligence agencies must “speak truth to power”. Integrity and candour, rather than ideological or personal loyalty, remain core prerequisites in dealing with political leaders.

Yet, the appearance of accountability does not necessarily de-politicise national security. Nor does it prevent overt political pressure, or the manipulation of intelligence operations to justify preordained political conclusions.




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The new Department of Home Affairs is unnecessary and seems to be more about politics than reform


In June 2017, Malcolm Turnbull’s government rolled out the largest and most significant changes to the AIC since its creation.

Checks and balances on government error and excess should remain a vital trademark of a healthy democracy. In this sense, a number of the proposed reforms should be applauded. This includes boosting the role and resources of both the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, as well as Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.




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Intelligence review must tackle anxiety around information-gathering, privacy and security


These changes also attempt to resolve questions about whether the boundaries and operational principles between agencies can be more clearly drawn. There are hopes the establishment of a new Office of National Intelligence (in place of the Office of National Assessments) will assist in greater co-ordination and complementary cross-agency efforts.

Of course, much of the devil remains in the detail. And a number of oversight gaps remain, including how to best protect whistle-blowers who expose unethical or illegal behaviour. We are also yet to see the implementation, execution and performance outcomes stemming from this major reform exercise. Further, the simultaneous announcement of new Home Affairs arrangements will demand equal critical scrutiny.

The ConversationIt’s been mooted that intelligence successes are often overlooked, while intelligence failures are widely broadcast. Popular misconceptions, polarisation and arguably excessive secrecy arrangements mean that the AIC will continue to operate in, and need to be responsive to, a backdrop of public misgivings, political point-scoring and conspiracy theories.

Daniel Baldino, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, University of Notre Dame Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

As a new defence chief comes in, Australia must focus its attention on its neighbours



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The incoming head of the Australian Defence Force, Lt-Gen Angus Campbell (left), understands the importance of Australia’s relations with its nearest neighbours.
AAP/Andrew Taylor

John Blaxland, Australian National University

On Anzac Day, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull commemorated the centenary of the battle at Villers-Brettoneux, where Australian soldiers defended against the German spring offensive of 1918. The opening of the Sir John Monash Centre honoured the celebrated commander of the Australian Corps in France at the tail end of the first world war.

So you would be forgiven if it appeared the Australian Defence Force was still orientated towards all things European. Indeed, in recent times, Australian forces have fought alongside many of those with whom we will commemorate the events at the Monash centre. France, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, among others, have been close partners in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq for the past two decades.

But the geostrategic context Australia faces in 2018 has changed markedly since 1918, let alone 2001, when Australian forces were committed into action in Afghanistan in the so-called global war on terror.

Australia increasingly is having to engage closely not just with close and trusted partners but with its own neighbours.

A new defence chief, major challenges

The current Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell was announced last week as the next Chief of Defence Force. Campbell has vast experience in military operations, including as a commander with the United Nations in East Timor and commander of Australian forces on operations in the Middle East.




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His time as the senior officer running Operation Sovereign Borders earned him some controversy for efficiently and effectively implementing the government’s “stop the boats” policy.

But the experience helped reinforce to him the significance of Australia’s relations with its immediate neighbours, most notably Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Campbell understands that operations far away tend to be ones of choice, while those closer to shore potentially present greater challenges for the nation.

The challenges ahead

Later this year, the ADF will assist with the APEC Forum in Port Moresby. Elements of the army, navy and air force will be assigned to provide critical security and other support for the smooth running of the forum, and to counter any potential crisis.

Beyond that, the Bougainville referendum is expected to be held in 2019. This was a date set 20 years ago, picked as a means to defuse tensions and postpone the inevitable question of autonomy or independence for the people of Bougainville. It is a particularly sensitive issue for Papua New Guinea, and managing bilateral relations over this could prove problematic.

In the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia, concerns about regional terrorist initiatives and a possible repeat of the circumstances that led to the battle of Marawi have prompted the ADF to look to engage more closely with counterparts in the armed forces of Australia’s neighbours.

Defence Cooperation Program activities are on the increase. These include partner exercises, training programs, ship visits, exchanges and various educational and training forums.

Across the Pacific, the prospect of human-generated or other environmental crises or disasters will continue to demand close attention from the ADF and Australian aid agencies.

Beyond such environmental challenges, the prospect of increased power contestation is focusing the minds of security policymakers on the importance of bolstering ties in places like Vanuatu, Tonga and Fiji. Partly in response, the Pacific patrol boat program is being revamped. Australia is supplying a fleet of new patrol boats with associated training, logistics and other related support included.




Read more:
Angus Campbell to head Australian Defence Force


The “Pacific Quad” also is emerging as a significant and growing force. This grouping includes French forces in New Caledonia, working on occasion alongside US, New Zealand and Australian forces, in anticipation of growing environmental and other security challenges where cooperation will be vital.

Another “Quad”, involving Australia, the United States, Japan and India, will likely attract attention as well. It may emerge as a significant body in shaping how to respond to the dramatic, rapid and unprecedented build-up of Chinese military force projection capabilities. This build-up includes modernised and expanded navies, air forces and human-constructed islands.

The spectrum of non-traditional and conventional security concerns in and around the Indo-Pacific suggests Campbell’s focus will be on managing relations with counterparts in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. At the same time, Australia’s legacy of involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan means that an enduring but carefully calibrated military footprint can be expected in both those countries.

Meanwhile, key challenges will revolve around managing security concerns in Papua New Guinea, terrorism-related concerns in Southeast Asia, a potential unravelling on the Korean Peninsula and contestation in the East and South China Seas. There will also be the seasonal, expected, but still devastating natural disasters in the Pacific.

With so much of concern nearby, a substantial military commitment alongside allies in Syria is unlikely. A peacekeeping force contribution is possible, though, if a political solution is ever reached.

Ties with the United States can be expected to remain wide, deep, intimate, strong and enduring. Indeed, while not willing to say so publicly, most of Australia’s neighbours remain uneasy about China’s military assertiveness and look to Australia to remain closely engaged with the United States.

The ConversationDespite the tweets emanating from the White House, insiders in Canberra see a significant and enduring overlap of interests and concerns with Washington. That is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, and Angus Campbell knows this well.

John Blaxland, Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Angus Campbell to head Australian Defence Force


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The new Australian Defence Force Chief will be Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell, Chief of Army since 2015, who became the operational public face of the Coalition government’s Operation Sovereign Borders.

Campbell replaces the present chief, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, 58, who will retire from the ADF in July.

With his promotion, Campbell has jumped over the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, who was involved in controversy over his relationship with a junior officer, whom he later married. Two reviews cleared Griggs of any impropriety. He is now leaving the military.

While the vice chief is frequently promoted to chief, as were Binskin and David Hurley before him, it is not an invariable practice. Neither Angus Houston nor Peter Cosgrove had been vice chief before taking the top role.

Campbell joined the army in 1981, graduating from Duntroon in 1984. Later he served in the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS).

In 2005, he joined the Prime Minister’s Department, rising to become Deputy Secretary and Deputy National Security Adviser. In 2011, he took command of Australian forces deployed in the Middle East area of operations.

He has a Bachelor of Science (honours) from the University of New South Wales and a Master of Philosophy in international relations from Cambridge University.

In his role in Operation Sovereign Borders, Campbell was known for his tight lips in face of questions, often ruling them out as “on water” matters.

Announcing the ADF changes, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Campbell brought leadership and experience to his new position. Defence Minister Marise Payne said he had shown leadership across many roles – “from operational periods of the highest tempo to what some might call a character-building period in Prime Minister and Cabinet some years ago”.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also praised the Campbell appointment, saying it was well-deserved and the Labor Party “wholeheartedly support it”.

The new Vice Chief of the ADF will be Vice Admiral David Johnston, currently Chief of Joint Operations, where his role has been “to plan, control and conduct military campaigns, operations, joint exercises and other activities” to meet Australia’s national objectives.

John Blaxland, Professor of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU, praised the appointments, tweeting that these were “a good call”. Both were “well-seasoned, intelligent and highly regarded officers”, he said.

He said Campbell understood the importance of closer engagement with our Southeast Asian and South Pacific neighbours.

Houston said Campbell was “an outstanding appointment”. He was very happy the government had appointed such a “strong and well-credentialed team”.

The new Chief of Army will be Major General Rick Burr.

Rear Admiral Mike Noonan becomes Chief of Navy, replacing Tim Barrett the present Navy Chief, who will also retire in July after a 42 year career.

Air Vice Marshal Mel Hupfeld will become Chief of Joint Operations – he is currently the head of Force Design.

The ConversationChief of Air Force, Air Marshal Leo Davies, continues in his present position.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Response to rumours of a Chinese military base in Vanuatu speak volumes about Australian foreign policy



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Reports that China plans to build a military base in Vanuatu seem to have little substance at this stage.
EPA/Jerome Favre

Michael O’Keefe, La Trobe University

Rumour has it that Vanuatu has agreed to a Chinese request to establish a military base. The substance of this rumour is highly speculative at the least and disingenuous at most. Regardless of the truth, the fact that it raises alarm about the threat of Chinese military expansionism speaks volumes about Australian foreign policy, particularly toward the Pacific.

On Monday, Fairfax Media reported that “China had approached Vanuatu” about setting up a “permanent military presence” – in other words, a base.

The article went on to speculate about the dramatic strategic importance of the “globally significant move that could see the rising superpower sail warships on Australia’s doorstep”. Furthermore, this Chinese base “would … upend the long standing strategic balance in the region” and would likely be followed by bases elsewhere.




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Multiple international media outlets have syndicated the story. Much of the coverage alluded to military threats and a shift in the strategic balance. The language is reminiscent of Cold War bipolarity: “their” gain is “our” loss.

On face value, this sounds like a serious geostrategic issue for Australia. But on close examination, the threat is more apparent than real. An indication of which is that nowhere are Chinese or Vanuatuan interests in provoking this form of strategic competition explained.

From the beginning, every assertion was countered by one of the primary players. Multiple representatives of the Vanuatu government have been at pains to deny the story. For instance, Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu was quoted as saying:

No-one in the Vanuatu Government has ever talked about a Chinese military base in Vanuatu of any sort.

As the story spiralled out of control, he then told SBS News it was “fake news” concocted by a Fairfax Media journalist.

Multiple Chinese government sources have denied the story and also described it as “fake news”. China also has assured the Australian government that the story has no validity.

In the original article, it was noted that talks between China and Vanuatu were only “preliminary discussions” and that “no formal proposals had been put to Vanuatu’s government.” So given these caveats, and the comprehensive denials, this raises some serious questions about why this rumour was newsworthy in the first place.

So where did it come from? Presumably Fairfax Media would only have acted if the information was from a highly placed Australian government source that could be verified. Presumably this unnamed source has leaked sensitive intelligence, but it is curious that no Australian Federal Police investigation has been announced.

This has been the past practice from the Turnbull government in relation to national security leaks, and there is no sign the government is at all concerned about this leak.

In contrast, it has used this rumour for megaphone diplomacy against both Vanuatu and China. For example, after accepting the Chinese government’s denial, the prime minister said:

We would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific island countries and neighbours of ours.

And it was the latter rather than the former statement that was covered by many media outlets.

This is very telling. Canberra is clearly sending signals to Beijing and Port Vila that it maintains significant strategic interests in the region (and is a message not lost on other Pacific capitals).

This concern is not new as Australia practised strategic denial in the South Pacific against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. More recently, speculation about Fiji’s relations with China and Russia was raised. But megaphone diplomacy with Fiji has proven unsuccessful in the past.

This approach simply rehashes colonial tropes about Pacific Island Nations being economically unsustainable, corrupt, and easily influenced by great powers. This is reinforced by China’s alleged influence borne from budget support, and capital and aid flows into the Pacific.

What these colonial stereotypes fail to acknowledge is that the foreign policies of Pacific Island countries have matured. Vanuatu is a committed member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), eschewing formal military alliances and entanglements with great powers. The lesson of Fiji’s strong stance against Australian sanctions is that it too has created an independent foreign policy. Neither country will be easily influenced by foreign powers, including Australia.




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Why do we keep turning a blind eye to Chinese political interference?


Returning to the “truth”. It is true that China’s influence in the region has grown dramatically in recent years, especially during the sanctions years from 2006 to 2014, when Canberra attempted to isolate Fiji.

It is also true that military diplomacy is a key element of China’s foreign policy approach (to the Pacific as in Africa). A final truth is that Vanuatu has a high level of debt dependence on China and is a major beneficiary of Chinese aid. However, this does not mean that Vanuatu is being influenced into accepting a Chinese military base.

At some stage, Vanuatu might very well sign an agreement that allows transit and refuelling of Chinese vessels, as is commonplace in international relations. As Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop told Radio National: “these sorts of visits are normal for many neighbours around the world.”

The ConversationIf so, then all we have learned from this episode is that old colonial habits die hard, and the chances of dispassionately dealing with the geo-strategic rise of China are narrowing.

Michael O’Keefe, Senior Lecturer of International Relations, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

China’s quest for techno-military supremacy



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China’s new J-20 stealth fighter was placed into combat service in February.
AAP/EPA

Adam Ni, Australian National University

Chinese President Xi Jinping wants to transform China’s military into the world’s most powerful force by 2050. And he could be on track to do it.

On the opening day of its National People’s Congress in Beijing yesterday, China reported a defence budget of ¥1.11 trillion ($A225 billion) for 2018. That represents an 8.1% increase in its defence budget, compared to a 7% increase last year.

China’s military has modernised rapidly in recent years. Since January alone it has demonstrated new capabilities in stealth fighter jets, drones, naval ships and advanced missiles.

Chinese scientists are also working to develop revolutionary technologies that would change the way wars are fought – and the way we live.




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Asia is set for a difficult year in 2018 – much of it centred around China


Challenging US military might

While China still lags the US in overall technological capability, it has narrowed the gap substantially. In the coming decades, it is poised to challenge US technological supremacy in key fields such as artificial intelligence, supercomputing and quantum information science.

What explains China’s rise as a technological power?

First, it has leveraged the innovation of other countries via technology transfers, and the acquisition of foreign companies and talent. It has also been reverse-engineering Western technology, and conducting state-sponsored industrial espionage.

According to one security analysis, between 2006 and 2013 the Chinese military stole confidential data from more than 140 organisations around the world. The problem was so serious that in May 2014, the US Department of Justice indicted five Chinese military hackers for cyber-espionage activities against US companies.




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Second, China has been able to mobilise resources for priority technology sectors and research and development (R&D) projects in a way that many democracies are simply unable to do because of the limits of government power or popular mandate. Large state subsidies, government R&D funding, tailored regulations, market barriers and lax individual rights (such as privacy) protection have given Chinese domestic companies an edge over their foreign competitors.

A good example of this is the rise of China’s internet sector to global prominence, as represented by giants such as Tencent and Alibaba.

Finally, China has substantially increased its R&D expenditure in recent years. From 2012 to 2017, China’s annual R&D spending rose 70.9% to ¥1.76 trillion ($A356 billion). The US National Science Board expects China to surpass the US in R&D investment, in purchasing power terms, by the end of this year.

China’s new superweapons

Here are a few examples of how China is making rapid progress in high-tech fields with military applications.

Hypersonic technology

A Chinese hypersonic gliding vehicle.
Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Hypersonic technology could one day allow us to travel from Beijing to New York in about two hours, rather than the 13 hours it currently takes. China is developing a hypersonic glide vehicle known as DF-ZF to make its nuclear and non-nuclear missiles extremely fast, manoeuvrable and capable of defeating existing missile defence systems.

To support this effort, China is building the world’s most advanced hypersonic wind tunnel for testing the extreme conditions of supersonic flight. While an operational hypersonic missile is still years away, once developed it would be a formidable weapon. It could also have a destabilising effect on strategic relations between China and other powers by compressing the time window for decision-making in a conflict or crisis situation.

Quantum technology

A quantum computer.
Flickr/Lars Plougmann, CC BY-SA

Another area of China’s focus is quantum technology, which uses subatomic mechanics to process and transmit information in a fraction of the time required by existing technology.

China is making rapid headway in quantum communication, computing and cryptography. In August 2016, China launched the world’s first quantum satellite. This enabled Chinese researchers to conduct cutting-edge experiments in quantum entanglement and teleportation. To win the quantum race, China announced last year that it will build the world’s largest quantum research facility at a cost of ¥76 billion ($A15.4 billion).

Quantum technology would enable the Chinese military to set up virtually unbreakable communication networks. It would also provide it with overwhelming computing power for information operations, such as the decryption of secret communications by adversaries.




Read more:
China’s quantum satellite could make data breaches a thing of the past


Electromagnetic technology

China is also in the advanced stages of developing an electromagnetic railgun. This supergun uses electromagnetic energy to shoot powerful projectiles over vast distances at incredible speed. These projectiles are aerodynamic and their power comes from the kinetic damage generated by the intense speed at which they travel.

Recent photos circulated on Chinese social media show what is suspected to be an experimental electromagnetic railgun mounted on the bow of the Chinese navy ship. This indicates that China may soon be the first in world to test such a weapon at sea, where it could revolutionise naval combat. In contrast, the US Navy is winding down its railgun research program because of resource constraints and shifting priorities.

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The above examples are only a few among dozens of high-tech fields in which China is making rapid progress. Others include biotechnology, robotics, supercomputing, nanotechnology, advanced materials, space technology, and artificial intelligence. In fact, the Chinese government has identified 17 engineering and science megaprojects that are key to China’s economic and military strength. These include advanced satellites, large nuclear reactors, large aircraft and high-end electronic chips.

China’s continued rise as a technological giant will have profound implications for its military power as Beijing leverages civilian technology for its military. This effort is so important that President Xi considers it a top priority. To underscore this, Xi created a powerful commission under his direct leadership to provide high-level guidance and oversight.

The ConversationMuch hinges on how Beijing chooses to use its new-found military and technological might. Indeed, China’s extensive geopolitical ambitions and increasingly assertive foreign policy are ominous signs that foreshadow the challenges ahead.

Adam Ni, Researcher, Strategic and Defense Studies Centre, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

If Australia wants to boost defence exports, it should start with its natural strength: cyber security



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The government’s Defence Export Strategy aims to make Australia a world leader in arms exports.
Shutterstock

Greg Austin, UNSW

Australia’s “national security” government has found yet another credential to add to its claim that it’s protecting the country’s future. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull launched a new Defence Export Strategy this week to catapult Australia into the top 10 defence exporting countries in the world by 2028.

Broadly speaking, the plan’s main premise is that if Australia is going to retool its defence industry over the coming decade to lift the production of Australian-made military equipment and services, then the government and industry itself should take the opportunity to export the same products and services.

Just as importantly, the strategy notes, if domestic producers are to prosper and succeed in playing their part, they will need bigger markets than the Australian armed forces can provide.

Three big questions

There are at least three big questions that can be raised about the plan.

First, we can wonder just how Australia hopes to achieve the 800% growth in sales represented by the “top 10” ambition in a highly competitive market place.

Between 2012 and 2016, according to a report released by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), countries near the bottom of the list of top 10 exporters (Spain, Italy, Ukraine and Israel) each had eight times more defence exports by value than Australia.


SIPRI

A second question concerns the national innovation strategy that would be needed to achieve such a massive improvement.

One day after the Prime minister’s new push for arms exports, the Chairman of the Board of Innovation and Science Australia, Bill Ferris, released Australia 2030 – a strategic plan for the Australian innovation, science and research system out to 2030 – commissioned by the government.

The report identified five things that need to change urgently: education, industry, government, research and development, and culture and ambition. Without going into detail here, that is quite some agenda for radical and comprehensive change. It is as needed in defence industry as in the economy as a whole.




Read more:
‘Cyber revolution’ in Australian Defence Force demands rethink of staff, training and policy


A third question is the diplomacy of selling weapons into conflict zones or to governments with troubled human rights records. The government dismissed this concern by saying the main recipients of our defence exports are close allies.

However, the 2017 SIPRI Trends in international arms transfers report lists Indonesia and Oman – with their poor human rights records – as the second and third most important military markets for Australia after the United States.

Making defence a cutting edge industry

So, if the aims of the strategy are broadly credible, but there are some questions about pace and ambition, what are we to make of it?

Its success will hinge on whether key stakeholders, especially the government, industry and academia, truly understand the meaning of the main goal: to, as the report says, transform the

Australian defence industry into the high-tech, agile and cutting-edge industry we need to assure our future defence and national security.

The Ferris report singled out the medical sector as the one with most potential for innovation and export growth. In contrast, the Defence Export Strategy is agnostic as to choice of sector or focus. Selling components for weapon systems is painted as the same as selling military vehicles or radars.

Picking winners may not be sensible in a globalised free market sector such as medical services, but there are some choices in the defence sector that the Turnbull government should be making.




Read more:
Cyber peacekeeping is integral in an era of cyberwar – here’s why


Playing to our strengths

Australia has a significant comparative advantage in cyber security knowledge and skills. The country is seen by insiders as being in the top ten in that field already, largely because of its decades of experience working inside the “five eyes” intelligence alliance.

Admittedly, the domestic industry doesn’t yet reflect that strength. But a focus on high-tech military industry development by the defence ministers would play not just to our natural strengths, but also to the need to sell mainly to close allies. (We would only sell such military exports to our closest allies).

More importantly, cyber science is not a sector, it is the essence of all military high technology. Australian universities already export their technology research to the United States through grants from the Pentagon. Several Australian technology startups have been acquired by US military giants. That includes the purchase of Canberra company, M5, by Northrop Grumman. Australian technology company, Atlassian, provides secure web services to the Pentagon.

The government is yet to release its Defence Industrial Capability Plan so maybe it is too soon to tell whether or not Australia’s cyber industry will take a privileged spot. But to date, most key power holders in Australian industrial development have responded only episodically to the challenges and opportunities represented by the information age. Austcyber, the cyber security growth and innovation centre set up by the government, is just one year old.




Read more:
Cyber attacks ten years on: from disruption to disinformation


Australia must build “industries of the future”, according to a multi-year multi-author series of studies led by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA), culminating in the book Securing Australia’s Future. This simple message, and many of the fine nuances of the ACOLA work about what makes a national innovation system, find little reflection in the Defence Export Strategy.

Between 2012 and 2014, China decided on its “industries of the future” for defence and security purposes – including for export – and they are all cyber-related. Australia should choose as decisively. We can do it, but we need to first build the critical mass of cyber-educated innovators needed for more rapid takeoff.

The ConversationInvesting very heavily in the military cyber sector may be the only pathway to begin to approach 800% growth in defence exports by 2028.

Greg Austin, Professor, Australian Centre for Cyber Security, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

$89b shipbuilding plan is a major step forward – but sovereignty remains a problem


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The naval shipbuilding plan is undoubtedly a major step forward for industrial capability in Australia.
AAP/David Mariuz

Graeme Dunk, Australian National University

Australia’s long-awaited naval shipbuilding plan, released earlier this week, claims it is a national endeavour: The Conversation

… larger and more complex than the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme and the National Broadband Network.

Irrespective of this particular claim’s validity, the investment of A$89 billion for nine new frigates, 12 submarines and 12 offshore patrol vessels is a substantial commitment to Australia’s security. The plan is a comprehensive approach to establishing a continuous program for building these platforms in Australia.

Apart from the future introduction of these and other vessels into service, one of the plan’s key outcomes is a “sovereign Australian capability to deliver affordable and achievable naval shipbuilding and sustainment”. The development of a sovereign capability is stated as “the government’s clear priority”.

But what is sovereignty in this context? And is it attainable from the naval shipbuilding plan?

Two clear weaknesses

The plan has two interconnected weaknesses when it comes to sovereignty.

First, the Australian defence industry environment is dominated by companies whose parentage and ultimate control rest offshore. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But given the shipbuilding plan’s focus on Australian jobs and resources, it is a reality that needs confronting.

To that end one might have expected to see, both in this document and in earlier ones, a definition of Australia’s defence industry – what it is and, importantly, what it is not.

The UK’s 2005 description of its defence industry embraces the combination of local and offshore companies contributing to defence outcomes in terms of:

… where the technology is created, where the skills and intellectual property reside, where the jobs are created and sustained, and where the investment is made.

A similar definition for Australia would provide a foundation for sovereignty in the shipbuilding environment to be properly assessed. The plan suggests the Australian subsidiaries of offshore companies will be considered as sovereign without discussing how local control might be maintained, and how Australian sensitivities might be tackled.

The proposed definition for defence industry also highlights the second weakness of the shipbuilding plan: it is focused on building and sustaining the structural component (the “float” and “move” aspects), rather than the total capability the ship or submarine represents.

The lists of skills cited as necessary are those primarily associated with building and sustaining the structure. The shipbuilding plan gives scant coverage to the important combat system and weapons elements upon which the war-fighting capability rests.

The plan does not address the industrial capabilities necessary for the local maintenance and improvement of these ships. Access to the detailed design information for the combat and sensor systems in particular is required so that such systems can be upgraded locally if required. An offshore equipment supplier may not give the same priority to our needs.

The plan for naval shipbuilding in Australia says it will source many systems of the future frigate and other naval platforms from the US. However, the closest it gets to recognition of this reality in the context of sovereignty is that:

Australia’s alliance with the US, and the access to advanced technology and information it provides, will remain critical.

The plan therefore implies that sovereignty is sought for the “float” and “move” aspects of the naval capabilities, but not necessarily for the important “fight” aspects. This means the systems elements of ships and submarines will be tackled in some other context – outside the naval shipbuilding plan.

More than just ‘doing stuff’

The naval shipbuilding plan is undoubtedly a major step forward for industrial capability in Australia.

A successful implementation will provide significant benefits for the Navy in terms of force structure, for industry in terms of a long-term enterprise upon which to grow overall capability and capacity, for innovation, for workers in terms of continuity of effort, and for the development of shipbuilding-related STEM skills. These are all worthy outcomes.

But sovereignty is more than just “doing stuff” in the country.

If the plan really wanted to tackle sovereignty, it should have provided a foundation on which aspects of industrial and operational sovereignty could be properly assessed, prioritised and managed. It would also have addressed the systems aspects of ships, rather than just the structure.

Graeme Dunk, PhD Candidate, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.