Allegations of murder and ‘blooding’ in Brereton report now face many obstacles to prosecution



Australian Department of Defence

David Letts, Australian National University

The long-awaited report into allegations of war crimes by Australia’s special forces in Afghanistan has finally been made public, after months of speculation about the contents.




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Evidence of war crimes found against 25 Australian soldiers in Afghanistan


As expected, the report by Justice Paul Brereton is highly confronting and deeply concerning. However, despite widespread condemnation of the behaviour identified in the report — from the highest levels of the military and government — the next steps are far from straightforward.

Unlawful killings

The report, from the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force (IGADF), found evidence of 23 incidents of alleged unlawful killing of 39 Afghan civilians by Australian special forces personnel. There are a further two incidents of “cruel treatment”.

ADF chief Angus Campbell
ADF chief Angus Campbell condemned the behaviour of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

This involved a total of 25 current or former Australian Defence Force members who were perpetrators, either as principals or accessories.

Some of these incidents took place in 2009 and 2010, with the majority occurring in 2012 and 2013.

ADF Chief General Angus Campbell said he was shocked by the revelations, which he described as “damaging to our moral authority as a military force”.

I would never have conceived an Australian would be doing this in the modern era.

Blooding, throwdowns and executions

The inquiry has found “credible information” that junior soldiers were required by their patrol commanders to shoot a prisoner, in order to achieve the soldier’s first kill, in a practice known as “blooding”.
“Throwdowns” — other weapons or radios — would be planted with the body, and a “cover story” was created.

This was reinforced with a code of silence.

The report is damning about a “warrior culture” within the Special Air Service Regiment, as well as a “culture of secrecy”.

The inquiry has recommended the chief of the defence force refer 36 matters to the Australian Federal Police for criminal investigation. Those matters relate to the 23 incidents and involve a total of 19 individuals.

Numerous obstacles to prosecutions

However, last week, in preparation for the report’s release, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a “special investigator” would be appointed to further examine any allegations of war crimes.

Campbell confirmed those who are alleged to be involved in unlawful criminal conduct will be referred to the special investigator.

After gathering evidence on specific allegations, the Office of the Special Investigator will refer briefs to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. Morrison explained such a task would “significantly overwhelm” the AFP, hence his decision to appoint a special investigator.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned Australians the report would make tough reading.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Despite these mechanisms being put in place, there are still serious questions about how potential criminal prosecutions would work. 

Investigating and prosecuting alleged crimes of this nature is incredibly difficult due to the passage of time, fading memories and inconsistency of witnesses. There are also practical challenges obtaining evidence in a country with a fragile security situation.




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It is also important to note any statement or disclosure made by a witness to the IGADF inquiry cannot be used as evidence against that person in any subsequent civil or criminal trial or court martial.

This means some of the evidence contained in the IGADF inquiry — however compelling it might be — may not be available for a criminal prosecution, as the right to remain silent would be available to a person being interviewed by the Special Investigator.

Also, the standard of proof required to convict an individual “beyond a reasonable doubt” in a criminal trial is quite high, meaning any successful prosecution might require stronger evidence than what has been included in the IGADF inquiry.

Therefore, for any prosecution to proceed, any evidence obtained by the special investigator will need to be evaluated against this higher criminal standard to determine if it is sufficient for a person to stand trial.

It is important to note the same higher standard of proof (beyond reasonable doubt) will need to be met for a successful prosecution, regardless of whether any trial takes place by court martial or in a civilian court.

Public perceptions of war crimes allegations

The reaction of the Australian public to the report will be interesting to observe. As journalists have revealed the shocking details of many of the allegations against SAS soldiers in recent years, some have defended their actions as having taken place in the “fog of war”.

In his comments on Thursday, Campbell spoke plainly about the report’s findings.

None of the alleged unlawful killings were described as being in the heat of battle […] The unlawful killing of citizens and prisoners is never acceptable.

Of course, it is important to recognise Australian soldiers faced significant difficulties in Afghanistan. Most notably, they were dealing with an enemy that was not easily identifiable and did not abide by the laws of war.

For instance, some Afghan civilians directly participated in conflict against Coalition soldiers. The so-called “farmer by day, fighter by night” has been a constant feature of operations in Afghanistan ever since Australians were first deployed there.

If civilians directly participated in hostilities against foreign forces, regardless of whether they were armed or not, they would lose their protected status under the laws of war. The death of any civilian taking direct part in hostilities, therefore, would not necessarily be unlawful under the laws of war and Australian domestic law.




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Understanding and applying this aspect of the laws of war is a potential complicating factor for the special investigator.

That said, as Campbell pointed out, the challenging circumstances faced by coalition forces in Afghanistan do not allow soldiers to commit war crimes. The laws of armed conflict are very clear in this regard.

A transparent and open investigation process

There was a clear need for these allegations to be properly investigated in an impartial manner. This has happened with the Brereton inquiry.

In appointing a special investigator, the government has shown it is taking these findings seriously and wants those soldiers who are proven guilty of crimes to be held accountable.




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The ADF must also be open and transparent about the actions it is taking following the completion of the IGADF inquiry.

By doing this, Australia’s military can show that it has learned from this sorry tale and made whatever changes are necessary to ensure compliance with the laws of armed conflict is understood and practised by every member of the ADF — regardless of the difficulty of the operating environment.The Conversation

David Letts, Director, Centre for Military and Security Law; Associate Professor, Australian National University

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

Scott Morrison prepares Australians for shocking news out of report on misconduct in Afghanistan


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government is setting up a special investigator office to examine the findings of the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force’s inquiry into alleged misconduct by Australian special forces in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.

The office will assist and coordinate Australia Federal Police criminal investigations into matters raised by the inquiry, gather evidence and where appropriate refer briefs to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Ahead of next week’s release of the redacted report, prepared by Justice Paul Brereton, Scott Morrison warned it would be “difficult and hard news” for Australians to hear.

He said the Australian Defence Force had served in Afghanistan “with great sacrifice, while dealing with significant challenges”, and more generally, he was extremely thankful “to every Australian who chooses to put on our uniform”.

But “we need to ensure justice is truly served by illuminating the conduct of those who may have acted in ways that do not accord with the high standards expected of our ADF and those expectations held by the serving men and women of our ADF and their veterans community, past and present.”

Morrison said the conduct covered the time-span of three governments. “Our responsibility is to ensure now that we deal with this in a way that accords with our Australian standards of justice, that respects the rule of law, that provides the relevant checks and balances through this process, that upholds our values and standards and the respect that we have for our Defence Forces that they have earned and deserve”.

He stressed the need to “protect the vulnerable whether serving currently or who are in our veterans community who have no part in this ”.

While those accused of misconduct must be held accountable within the justice system and the Australian rule of law “responsibility must also be taken by leadership to ensure the lessons are learned and these events are never repeated”.

The inquiry has examined a raft of alleged breaches of the laws of armed conflict, including claims of murder and mistreatment, involving non-combatants and those being held prisoner.

The report covers not just specific allegations, but also the culture that allowed misbehaviour.

The government is also establishing a panel to oversee Defence’s broader response to the inquiry, covering cultural, organisational and leadership change. It will report to the defence minister.

Its members will be Vivienne Thom, a former inspector-general of intelligence and security, Robert Cornall, a former secretary of the attorney-general’s department, and Rufus Black, an ethicist and vice-chancellor of the University of Tasmania.

The special investigator will be a senior counsel or retired judge. The office will sit in the Home Affairs portfolio. It will have investigative staff from within the Australian Federal Police, state police experts and legal counsel.

The investigations would normally be handled by the AFP but the volume and complexity of the task is too great.

Morrison said it would operate as long as necessary.

Ben Roberts-Smith, a VC recipient in Afghanistan, who has been subject to allegations in the media, issued a statement on Thursday night.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.

Government to recruit 500 more reservists in $1 billion accelerated defence spend to support jobs


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Morrison government is accelerating and repurposing defence spending in a A$1 billion boost to support about 4,000 jobs and assist small and medium-sized businesses in the defence industry supply chain.

In several workforce initiatives worth about $80 million, up to 210,000 more days will be available to give supplementary employment to Australian Defence Force reservists, some of whom have lost civilian income. There are 27,000 ADF active reservists.

Five hundred more reservists will be recruited, which could help people with part time employment who have lost their primary employment due to businesses closing and the restrictions.

The ADF will slow or delay the transition of personnel out of the force for medical reasons, subject to medical advice. There will also be support for ADF partners to find work.

A $300 million “defence estate” program, supporting up to 2,200 jobs, will speed up work scheduled for defence facilities around the country. Some of the areas to benefit suffered in the bush fires.

The program will take in the RAAF bases East Sale, Pearce, Wagga and Amberley, as well as Jervis Bay and Eden, the Albury Wodonga Military Area, and Blamey Barracks. This builds on an announcement made in May.

About $190 million will be invested in bringing forward seven infrastructure projects in the Northern Territory, involving Robertson Barracks, RAAF Base Darwin, Larrakeyah Defence Precinct, and the Delamere Air Weapons Range.

Another $200 million will be spent on “sustainment of existing capabilities and platforms” including the upgrade of Bushmaster protected mobility vehicles, modernisation of ADF uniforms, and extra C-27J maintenance. The last will provide work for 23 former Qantas engineering and technical workers, and 14 ex-Virgin technical peronnel.

The uniform modernisation will speed up the delivery of “a contemporary, practical Navy uniform”.

Accelerating various projects to develop and deliver capability will cost $200 million and give work in the areas of manufacturing, construction and high tech.

About $110 million will be allocated to defence innovation, industry grants, skilling and micro credentialling and cyber training.

Scott Morrison, who will formally announce the package on Wednesday, said that like other parts of the economy the local defence industry was “doing it tough”.

“Supporting our defence industry is all part of our JobMaker plan – especially high-paying, high-skilled jobs that ensure we are supporting a robust, resilient and internationally competitive defence industry, ” he said.

“We will also support our ADF members and families, particularly any reservists who are doing it tough because of COVID-19.”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.

Payne and Reynolds leave Washington with key ‘wins’ — and room to disagree with US on China



Alexander Drago/AP

Rowan Callick, Griffith University

This week’s annual Australia-US ministerial (AUSMIN) talks took place within the fraught context of a world growing in enmity and anxiety — but no longer economically.

The US ambassador to Australia, Arthur Culvahouse Jr, described it as

one of the most consequential AUSMIN meetings in decades.

Certainly, the Australian team went to unusual lengths to participate. Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, Defence Force Chief General Angus Campbell and their teams will all have to quarantine for 14 days on their return to Australia.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted the commitment to travel to the US during the coronavirus pandemic, saying

not many partners will do that for us.

That effort appears to have been acknowledged in the comparative weight of Australian concerns and priorities in the statement released today following the talks.

Euan Graham, a senior fellow for Asia-Pacific security at International Institute for Strategic Studies, told me this bears the stamp of “pretty proactive drafting from the Australian side”.

The statement reflects broader interests than in previous AUSMIN talks — including a strong section on COVID-19 — and omits any mention of the Middle East. Instead, it focuses heavily on the Indo-Pacific region — Australia’s region.

To satisfy the US side in return, China is named-and-shamed considerably more than what is usual for the Morrison government. Concerns about the fate of Hong Kong under its new National Security Law and of the Uyghurs in China’s western Xinjiang region are spelled out strongly in the statement.




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Australia and the US ‘don’t agree on everything’

Payne stressed after the talks that while Canberra and Washington share many values,

We don’t agree on everything. We are very different countries. We are very different systems, and it’s the points on which we disagree that we should be able to articulate in a mature and sensible way.

She also emphasised the importance of Australia’s relationship with China, saying

we have no intention of injuring it, but nor do we intend to do things that are contrary to our interests, and that is the premise from which we begin.

Of course, this comes days after Australia’s strongest statement yet on the legality of China’s effective annexation of the South China Sea — a declaration that drew a rebuke from China’s Foreign Ministry.

But the Washington talks did not see Australia take the further step the US has sought, to support its freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) by sailing within the 12 nautical miles of the artificial islands China claims in the sea.

This may have reflected a reluctance to embark on a striking new military direction with a US administration that may be replaced in January.

Australia will continue to sail naval vessels through the South China Sea, including in collaboration with the US Navy.

This move is supported by the Labor opposition, with defence spokesman Richard Marles saying it reflects “core national interests”. Some 60% of Australian seaborne trade passes through the area.

Graham, however, says he would be “super-surprised” if the Australians pursued a FONOP on their own, though less surprised, if they did with a flotilla of other countries’ navies.




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Alliance shifts in focus to Australia’s concerns

The US team indicated its approval of the recently announced A$270 billion upgrade of Australia’s defence force – a shift in line with the Trump administration’s urging of US allies to become more self-reliant.

Morrison framed this upgrade within three aims: to more effectively shape the strategic environment, deter actions against Australian interests and respond with credible force when needed.

This also reflects, Graham says, a broader move to refocus Australian defence towards Southeast Asia, the Pacific and India.

The outstanding exception to this new focus, as reflected in the AUSMIN talks, is Taiwan.

The self-governing island is perceived to be coming under more imminent threat from Beijing, which claims it as its territory. The US and Australia affirmed Taiwan’s “important role in the Indo-Pacific region” and indicated their support for its membership in international organisations.

Rather than reflecting a hard defence and security focus, though, the AUSMIN statement prioritised the global response to COVID-19.

Graham believes this is “an Australian win” since the US has lagged in global leadership on the pandemic. The new funding pledged for post-COVID recovery in the Pacific is not massive — but the elevation of health concerns indicated this will now become more central to global security.




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Overall, the talks indicate that as American concerns about the China challenge rise — among Democrats as well as Republicans — the Indo-Pacific is becoming ever more important, with Australia providing a crucial southern anchor for potential US force deployment.

They also make clear that while the US-Australia alliance remains rock-solid, Canberra will continue to plot its own course. It will approach issues like China trade, relations with the World Health Organisation and other multilateral agencies, and climate change in a strikingly different manner from the US.

Beijing, for its part, will continue to portray Canberra as an American “lapdog”, while at the same time seeking to do what it can to prise the alliance apart.

But this rhetoric is failing to win any policy traction, despite the instability of the Trump White House. Nor is China’s “deep freeze” of Australia. As Morrison has said, he’s “not waiting by the phone” for an invitation to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

This week, Chile reportedly chose Japan — not China — to build the first fibre-optic cable connecting South America with the Indo-Pacific, following the completion of a submarine cable between Japan and Australia this month.

All are members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump quit soon after his inauguration.

Such moves underline — as does the AUSMIN statement — the growing complexity and challenges of the post-coronavirus world, not only for Washington but also for Beijing.The Conversation

Rowan Callick, Industry Fellow, Griffith University

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

Naval exercises in South China Sea add to growing fractiousness between US and China



AAP/EPA/US Navy handout

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

The deployment of three US nuclear-powered aircraft carriers to the South China Sea have further tested strained relations between China and the United States.

The US naval exercises represent an enormous aggregation of firepower. Adding to tensions, the US deployment coincides with Chinese war games in the same vicinity.

These waters are becoming congested naval space.

This is the first time since 2017 that America has deployed three carrier battle groups into contested waters of the South China Sea and its environs. You would have to go back a further ten years for another such display of raw American naval power in the Asia-Pacific.




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In 2017, the US sent a three-carrier force into the region to exert pressure on nuclear-armed North Korea to cease provocative missile tests and the further development of its nuclear capability.

On this occasion, it is China that is being reminded of American capacity to assert itself in what has become known as the Indo-Pacific. This describes a vast swathe that laps at China’s borders from India in the west to Japan in the north-east.

Washington seems bent on conveying a message. However, it is not clear that China is in a mood to heed such messages in an atmosphere of escalating rhetoric.

In a response to the American naval exercises, Beijing’s official English-language mouthpiece, The Global Times, accused Washington of “attempting to show off its military capability, threaten China and enforce its hegemonic policies”.

The newspaper quoted Beijing “analysts” as saying:

The South China Sea is fully within the grasp of the People’s Liberation Army, and any US aircraft carrier movements in the region is solely at the pleasure of the PLA.

This is not true, of course. But the fact such sentiments are emanating from Beijing’s security establishment is confronting, to say the least. When it comes to big-power rivalry, talk might be cheap, but words matter.

In China’s armoury, propaganda is a weapon of influence.

Perhaps the most interesting component of the Global Times assault on US regional “hegemonistic” ambitions is its characterisation of American meddling as that of a “non-regional country that lies tens of thousands of miles away”.

Leaving aside the usual propaganda from Beijing, these sorts of observations represent a continuing escalation in Chinese rhetoric and cannot simply be dismissed as more of the same.

China’s own characterisation of the South China Sea as a “Chinese lake”, in defiance of multiple territorial claims and counter-claims from its neighbours, represents a noose around the region’s neck.

This begs the question whether a regional arms race is under way and likely to intensify. Australia’s own announcement of increased defence expenditures on such items as long-range anti-ship missiles attests to concerns about China’s growing assertiveness.

Canberra’s commitment to lift defence spending above the 2% of GDP benchmark and equip itself with greater offensive capabilities represents a direct response to a perceived China threat.

In that regard, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update, in which he described the Indo-Pacific as the “epicentre of rising strategic competition”, crosses a red line in Australian strategic thinking.

Morrison added “the risk of miscalculation and even conflict is heightening”.

This is indisputable.

The prime minister’s recent comments crossed a red line in strategic thinking.
AAP/Lukas Coch

As a snapshot of the region, the 11-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) increased military spending between 2009 and 2018 by 33% in real terms, according to the authoritative Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute (SIPRI).

This was significantly more than growth in spending in other regions. It’s directly attributable to concerns about a deteriorating security environment. Australia’s planned acquisition of long-range anti-ship missiles is part of a wider regional trend.

More weapons with greater range increase the risk of an incident. This may come about by accident but be built up into something much bigger – a shooting war or, more likely, a nasty memory that will haunt international relations for many years and lead to yet more militarisation.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates China’s defence budget in 2020 stands at US$261 billion. This compares with the US defence budget in 2019 of US$717 billion.

In percentage terms, increases in China’s spending outstripped that of its significant neighbours. This includes India, Japan, South Korea and Australia.

A lot more spending is on the way. By 2035, half the world’s submarine fleet will be deployed in the Indo-Pacific, according to Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper.

At the same time, China is pressing ahead with its own aircraft carrier fleet. It has two: one purchased off the shelf from Ukraine; the other built in China. The keel has been laid for a third at a Shanghai shipyard.

This is serious stuff. China is a nuclear state.

All this needs to be kept in mind as ill-tempered exchanges between Washington and Beijing over China’s responsibility for a global health pandemic, trade tensions, human rights abuses, bullying of Hong Kong, border skirmishes with India and increased pressure on Taiwan weigh on an increasingly strained relationship.

Arguably, tensions between the US and China are worse now than in 1989, when a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters ruptured relations. The difference between then and now is that China has a vastly larger economy and is an emerging superpower with a military to match its ambitions.

In 1989, China’s economy on a purchasing power parity basis was a fraction of the size it is today. Its contribution to world trade had not yet become supercharged.

China-US relations are at their lowest ebb since the pro-democracy uprising of 1989.
AAP/Reuters/Siu Chiu

What also is noteworthy is that, unlike 1989, China’s armed forces are no longer almost exclusively land-based. Chinese naval capabilities have progressed in leaps and bounds, along with its electronic warfare capabilities.

Hanging over a potentially worsening security environment, certainly an ill-tempered relationship between Beijing and the West, is widespread uneasiness over a deterioration in American global leadership.

In a presidential election year in which a wounded president is fighting for his political survival, risks of a miscalculation are real.

In other words, the security and political environment is treacherous at a moment when China itself feels under siege. As a consequence, China is lashing out at its perceived detractors, real or imagined.

This includes Australia, which has found itself under an almost daily barrage of Chinese invective following Morrison’s clumsy attempts to spearhead an independent inquiry into China’s responsibility for the coronavirus pandemic.




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Typical of this sort of invective is the following, courtesy of the Global Times:

Australia is only a follower of the US, and its capability in the South China Sea will be limited.

The bloody Tiananmen crackdown in 1989 on pro-democracy protesters might be regarded as the low point in Beijing’s post-Mao Zedong relationship with the West, but it could be argued there is now a more worrying set of circumstances.

No country in the Indo-Pacific, with the possible exception of North Korea, can feel comfortable about China’s growing assertiveness. So it is tempting to say something will most likely give.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

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

It’s one thing to build war fighting capability, it’s another to build industrial capability



Shutterstock

Graeme Dunk, Australian National University

Amid fanfare last week at the start of the new financial year the government promised to invest A$270 billion over a decade to upgrade the defence force.

It said a side benefit would be a stronger local defence industry and “more high-tech Australian jobs”.

The prime minister’s statement hastened to add that it was already strong

Australia’s defence industry is growing with over 4,000 businesses employing approximately 30,000 staff. An additional 11,000 Australian companies directly benefit from Defence investment and, when further downstream suppliers are included, the benefits flow to approximately 70,000 workers.

But the Australian part of Australia’s defence industry is small and getting smaller.

My analysis of contracts listed on the government’s Austender website shows that while the proportion of defence department contracts awarded to Australian operated firms is usually well above 60%, the proportion awarded to firms that are both Australian operated and owned is much lower, presently 11%.



Austender, authors calculations

It means that while Australians are being employed on defence department projects, the use of Australian firms that develop and own intellectual property is at a near-record low.

Other analysis of the same data shows that the value of the contracts awarded to Australian owned companies is increasingly lower than for foreign owned companies.

This is backed up by the annual Australian Defence Magazine survey of the top 40 defence contractors.

Despite the fact that in the most recent survey two of the biggest contractors declined to take part – the French-owned Naval Group Australia, which has the contract for the Future Submarine program, and the US-owned Raytheon – it has the advantage of including subcontracting relationships not shown in Austender.

Playing second fiddle matters

The survey finds that while the amount of work done by Australian-controlled companies has held up since 2015, it has been increasingly subcontracted to foreign-owned prime contractors.

This subordinate role has important implications for the health of Australia’s industry and national resilience.

For industry it means that Australia is denied the full economic benefits that would come from designing and running projects and owning the intellectual property.

For national resilience it increases Australia’s exposure to events outside its control.




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If foreign-controlled firms withdraw, withhold or otherwise redirect assistance (or if they are directed to do so by foreign governments) it is harder for Australia’s industry to pick up the slack.

The supply chain interruptions caused by COVID-19 have highlighted these vulnerabilities.

Brent Clark, the national chief executive of the Australian Industry and Defence Network says he was “shocked to learn how many of our supplies are sourced from overseas and how quickly those supplies became hard to access as soon as overseas countries required them for their own purposes”.

He says the industry is not asking for a free ride, but it does want to be able to compete for contracts in a fair and equitable manner.




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This isn’t to suggest Australia needs to it do all. Complete self-sufficiency in defence is unrealistic.

But it would deepen Australia’s war fighting capability if Australian firms had the ability to to supply and maintain much of the essential equipment we will need to use.

And it would strengthen our ability to deal with other crises. COVID-19 has shown that industrial capability and resilience are intrinsically linked.

The Government’s rhetoric and policies support home-grown growth. All that is needed now is commitment backed up by accountability.


Louisa Minney, defence consultant, business analyst and company director, contributed to this article.The Conversation

Graeme Dunk, PhD Candidate, Australian National University

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

Morrison’s $1.3 billion for more ‘cyber spies’ is an incremental response to a radical problem



Mick Tsikas/AAP

Greg Austin, UNSW

The federal government has announced it will spend more than a billion dollars over the next ten years to boost Australia’s cyber defences.

This comes barely a week after Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned the country was in the grip of a “sophisticated” cyber attack by a “state-based” actor, widely reported to be China.




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The announcement can be seen as a mix of the right stuff and political window dressing – deflecting attention away from Australia’s underlying weaknesses when it comes to cyber security.

What is the funding for?

Morrison’s cyber announcement includes a package of measures totalling $1.35 billion over ten years.

This includes funding to disrupt offshore cyber crime, intelligence sharing between government and industry, new research labs and more than 500 “cyber spy” jobs.

As Morrison explained

This … will mean that we can identify more cyber threats, disrupt more foreign cyber criminals, build more partnerships with industry and government and protect more Australians.

They key aim is to help the country’s cyber intelligence agency, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), to know as soon as possible who is attacking Australia, with what, and how the attack can best be stopped.

Australia’s cyber deficiencies

Australia certainly needs to do more to defend itself against cyber attacks.

Intelligence specialists like top public servant Nick Warner have been advocating for more attention for cyber threats for years.

Concerns about Australia’s cyber defences have been raised for years.
http://www.shutterstock.com

The government is also acknowledging publicly that the threats are increasing.

Earlier this month, Morrison held an unusual press conference to announce that Australia was under cyber attack.

While he did not specify who by, government statements made plain it was the same malicious actor (a foreign government) using the same tools as an attack reported in May this year.

Related attacks on Australia using similar malware were also identified in May 2019.

This type of threat is called an “advanced persistent threat” because it is hard to get it out of a system, even if you know it is there.




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All countries face enormous difficulties in cyber defence, and Australia is arguably among the top states in cyber security world-wide. Yet after a decade of incremental reforms, the government has been unable to organise all of its own departments to implement more than basic mitigation strategies.

New jobs in cyber security

The biggest slice of the $1.35 billion is a “$470 million investment to expand our cyber security workforce”.

This is by any measure an essential underpinning and is to be applauded.

The Morrison government wants to recruit more than 500 new ASD employees.
http://www.shutterstock.com

But it is not yet clear how “new” these new jobs are.

The 2016 Defence White Paper announced a ten year workforce expansion of 1,700 jobs in intelligence and cyber security. This included a 900-person joint cyber unit in the Australian Defence Force, announced in 2017.

The newly mooted expansion for ASD will also need to be undertaken gradually. It will be impossible to find hundreds of additional staff with the right skills straight away.

The skills needed cut across many sub-disciplines of cyber operations, and must be fine-tuned across various roles. ASD has identified four career streams (analysis, systems architecture, operations and testing) but these do not reflect the diversity of talents needed.

It’s clear Australian universities do not currently train people at the advanced levels needed by ASD, so advanced on-the-job training is essential.

Political window dressing

The government is promoting its announcement as the “nation’s largest ever investment in cyber security”. But the seemingly generous $1.35 billion cyber initiative does not involve new money.

The package is also a pre-announcement of part of the government’s upcoming 2020 Cyber Security Strategy, expected within weeks.

This will update the 2016 strategy released under former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and cyber elements of the 2016 Defence White Paper.




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Australia is facing a looming cyber emergency, and we don’t have the high-tech workforce to counter it


The new cyber strategy has been the subject of country-wide consultations through 2019, but few observers expect significant new funding injections.

The main exceptions which may receive a funding boost compared with 2016 are likely to be in education funding (as opposed to research), and community awareness.

With the release of the new cyber strategy understood to be imminent, it is unclear why the government chose this particular week to make the pre-announcement. It obviously will have kept some big news for the strategy release when it happens.

The federal government is expected to release a new cyber security strategy within weeks.
http://www.shutterstock.com

The government’s claim that an additional $135 million per year is the “largest ever investment in cyber security” is true in a sense. But this is the case in many areas of government expenditure.

The government has obviously cut pre-planned expenses in some unrevealed areas of Defence.

Meanwhile, the issues this funding is supposed to address are so complex, that $1.35 billion over ten years can best be seen as an incremental response to a radical threat.

Australia needs to do much more

According to authoritative sources, including the federal government-funded AustCyber in 2019, there are a number of underlying deficiencies in Australia’s industrial and economic response to cyber security.

These can only be improved if federal government departments adopt stricter approaches, if state governments follow suit, and if the private sector makes appropriate adjustments.

Above all, the leading players need to shift their planning to better accommodate the organisational and management aspects of cyber security delivery.




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Australia is vulnerable to a catastrophic cyber attack, but the Coalition has a poor cyber security track record


Yes, we need to up our technical game, but our social response is also essential.

CEOs and departmental secretaries should be legally obliged to attest every year that they have sound cyber security practices and their entire organisations are properly trained.

Without better corporate management, Australia’s cyber defences will remain fragmented and inadequate.The Conversation

Greg Austin, Professor UNSW Canberra Cyber, UNSW

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

Defence update: in an increasingly dangerous neighbourhood, Australia needs a stronger security system



Glenn Hunt/AAP

John Blaxland, Australian National University

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a new 2020 Defence Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan that marks a considerable departure from the past.

The update boosts defence spending from A$195-$270 billion over the next decade, with a commitment to see it through, regardless of the proportion of GDP it may reflect in the economically challenging months ahead.

The update promises increases for the three services (navy, army, air force), a satellite constellation, a bolstered cyber capability and plans for increased engagement with the neighbourhood. The intention is to bolster the ADF’s reach, precision, speed, agility and resilience.




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Australia’s latest military commitment should spark assessment of how well we use our defence forces


The extended reach and more robust capabilities are intended to catch up with recent upgrades in the militaries in our region (notably in the Chinese armed forces).

This update is also intended to complicate the plans of any adversary seeking to cause us harm. Diversifying our capabilities is key to avoiding being limited by a shortage of force options.

China’s military has been undergoing dramatic reforms in recent years.
XINHUA NEWS AGENCY HANDOUT/EPA

China is the main motivator – but not the only one

China didn’t feature explicitly in the prime minister’s launch speech, but the dramatic growth in its military capabilities, coupled with an aggressive approach to cyber intrusions and its “wolf warrior diplomacy ”, is clearly a significant motivator for this surge in defence spending.

The plan makes clear, though, that other issues beyond great power rivalries are also contributing to the world’s sense of uncertainty, including threats to human security, pandemics and natural disasters.

Also implicit in the plan is the concern over heightened US introspection and waning relative influence, particularly in our region.

It is sometimes helpful to think of defence as being like a signposted home insurance policy and alarm system, designed to deter intruders and provide for potential calamity. The ADF capability, to date, has offered insufficient deterrence at a time when the prospect of (literal and metaphoric) fires and intrusions is growing.

The plan doubles down on regional engagement initiatives (a “neighbourhood watch” program, if you like). Key priorities here include better cooperation with maritime Southeast Asian states and the South Pacific, as well as other security partners further afield.




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


This will complement the work being undertaken as part of Australia’s Pacific “Step Up” policy and reflects the investment in regional military partnerships, such as the Indo-Pacific Endeavour. However, it does not yet go as far as a more comprehensive proposal for a grand compact for the Pacific.

There is an underlying purpose to the ADF update: to ensure what Australia does is seen as being in the shared interests of the region, helping to bolster regional stability and security in these uncertain times.

It also may demonstrate a heartening increase in resolve to confront challenges in our region and stand with our neighbours as we have done in the past, instead of being focused on security challenges in the far corners of the globe, where our influence is commensurately less.

Greater resilience and preparedness

The update’s workforce plan projects incremental personnel growth in the hundreds, not thousands. And the service chiefs appear content. With unemployment spiking due to the coronavirus and related economic downturn, their recruitment and retention problems have faded for now.

The plan acknowledges the prospect of further “black swan” events, such as bushfires and pandemics. The ADF, however, is only a boutique force and while its utility and adaptability is impressive, there is little spare capacity in the event of a spike in crises – even with more soldiers and other staff.

As such, there may still be scope for a voluntary but incentivised national and community service scheme.

Resilience featured prominently in the update, as well, reflecting growing awareness of Australia’s vulnerability arising from an overdependence on supply lines from abroad, notably refined petroleum products.

Morrison said Australia needs to prepare for a world that is ‘poorer, more dangerous and more disorderly’.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Deterrence is critically important

Critics may argue this update is a mistake and our words and actions may antagonise China – our largest trading partner.

But China is itself antagonising many countries, all of which have extensive trade ties with it. Even the Philippines, which has made concessions and reached out to China under President Rodrigo Duterte, has seen these efforts spurned. As a result, it has retained its ties with the United States.

It is not just us. We are not the ones being pushy or rude. In fact, looking around to the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Europe, Southeast Asia and beyond, the pattern of assertive Chinese actions suggests we may have been a bit too polite so far.




Read more:
Is it time for a ‘new way of war?’ What China’s army reforms mean for the rest of the world


It also points to the need to double down on consulting and collaborating with neighbours who are equally disconcerted by China’s belligerence and America’s evident retreat from global leadership. That seems to have been the point of much of the policy prescriptions in the Foreign Policy White Paper of 2017 – or what I call our Foreign Policy “Plan B”.

Meanwhile, China has built its robust, lethal and rapidly expanding military capability, structured to confront its very own trading partners.

Australia’s actions are not happening in a vacuum. Rather, Australia is appropriately and commensurately responding in an effort to bolster its own resilience and deterrence. After all, wars start when one side calculates the other’s ability to deter is insufficient and they feel confident of victory. Deterrence is critically important.The Conversation

John Blaxland, 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.

Scott Morrison pivots Australian Defence Force to meet more threatening regional outlook



Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison will deliver a stark warning that Australia faces an increasingly threatening regional outlook and announce a pivot in its defence posture, when he releases the government’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update on Wednesday.

The Prime Minister will declare: “Even as we stare down the COVID pandemic at home, we need to also prepare for a post COVID world that is poorer, more dangerous and more disorderly”.

He will say the Indo-Pacific is the “epicentre” of increasing strategic competition, highlight “fractious” United States-China relations, and point to rising regional tensions over territorial claims, notably in the South China Sea and on the India-China border.

Australia’s defence policy is being adjusted to concentrate on our immediate region, and to equip the Australian Defence Force (ADF) with greater capability for deterring threats, including by significant new investment in longer-range strike capabilities across air, sea and land.

Morrison will announce the government will buy the AGM-158C Long Range Anti-Ship Missile from the US Navy, costing about $800 million. This missile has a range of more than 370 kilometres and is a significant upgrade from the current Harpoon anti-ship missile.

The very blunt language and unvarnished tone of Morrison’s speech, released ahead of delivery, reflect the heightening regional uncertainty, as China’s power and assertiveness increase, and American policy is unpredictable.

The update comes as relations between Australia and China continue to deteriorate, with Australia pointing to cyber attacks from “a state-based” actor and China accusing Australia of spying on it.

In his speech Morrison says the 2016 Defence White Paper gave equal weighting across three areas: Australia and its northern approaches, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and operations in support of the rules-based global order.

“In this update, the government has directed Defence to prioritise the ADF’s geographical focus on our immediate region – the area ranging from the north-east Indian Ocean, through maritime and mainland Southeast Asia to Papua New Guinea and the South West Pacific,” he says.

“With the Indo-Pacific experiencing fundamental shifts and increased threats, our commitment will deepen.

“Our defence forces will need to be prepared for any future, no matter how unlikely,” Morrison says.

“The government has set three new strategic objectives to guide all defence planning, including force structure, force generation, international engagement and operations,” he says. These are to

  • shape Australia’s strategic environment

  • deter actions against Australia’s interests

  • respond with credible military force, when required.

Morrison says maintaining a “largely defensive force” won’t be adequate to deter attacks against Australia or its interests in the challenging strategic environment the country faces.

The ADF’s deterrence capabilities must be strengthened.

It needs “capabilities that can hold potential adversaries’ forces and critical infrastructure at risk from a distance, thereby deterring an attack on Australia and helping to prevent war,” he says.

To meet the new circumstances, “Australia will invest in longer range strike weapons, cyber capabilities and area denial”.

“We will increase the Australian Defence Force’s ability to influence and deny operations directed against our interests — ones below the threshold of traditional armed conflict, in what experts call the ‘grey-zone’.

“This will involve boosting Defence’s special operations, intelligence and offensive cyber capabilities, as well as its presence operations, capacity-building efforts, and engagement activities.”

Outlining the worsening risks, Morrison says: “We have moved into a new and less benign strategic era – one in which the institutions and patterns of cooperation that have benefited our prosperity and security for decades are under increasing strain.

“The Indo-Pacific is the epicentre of rising strategic competition.

“Our region will not only shape our future – increasingly it is the focus of the dominant global contest of our age.

“Tensions over territorial claims are rising across the Indo-Pacific region – as we have seen recently on the disputed border between India and China, in the South China Sea, and in the East China Sea.

“The risk of miscalculation – and even conflict – is heightening.

“Regional military modernisation is occurring at an unprecedented rate.

“Capabilities and reach are expanding.

“Previous assumptions of enduring advantage and technological edge are no longer constants.

“Coercive activities are rife.

“Disinformation and foreign interference have been enabled by new and emerging technologies.

“Terrorism and the evil ideologies that underpin it remain a tenacious threat.

“And state sovereignty is under pressure — as are rules and norms, and the stability these help provide.

“Relations between China and the United States are fractious as they compete for political, economic and technological supremacy,” Morrison says.

He says “the largely benign security environment Australia has enjoyed – roughly from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the Global Financial Crisis – is gone.”

The government’s updated defence funding will see investment in capability grow to $270 billion over the next decade. This compares with the $195 billion decade-long commitment in the 2016 White Paper.

Australia’s sharpened regional focus would have the ADF forming even deeper links with regional armed forces.

“Our new strategic settings will also make us a better, more effective ally.”

However, in a message that Australia no longer is as keen to be drawn into situations further afield, Morrison says, “We remain prepared to make military contributions outside of our immediate region where it is in our national interest to do so, including in support of US-led coalitions.

“But we cannot allow consideration of such contingencies to drive our force structure to the detriment of ensuring we have credible capability to respond to any challenge in our immediate region.

“It is in our region that we must be most capable in the military contributions we make to partnerships, and to our ever-closer alliance with the United States.”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.

Is it time for a ‘new way of war?’ What China’s army reforms mean for the rest of the world



Jason Lee/Reuters

Bates Gill, Macquarie University and Adam Ni, Macquarie University

The ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu once said,

Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.

Looking at the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) today, it’s hard to say which of these tactics is most germane.

Getting the answer right will have enormous consequences for the United States and the future of the Indo-Pacific region. Underestimating the PLA breeds complacency and risks costly overreach. Overestimating the Chinese military grants it unwarranted advantage.

Similarly, for the Chinese leadership, miscalculating its military capability could lead to disaster.

As such, any serious appraisal of Chinese military power has to take the PLA’s progress – as well as its problems – into account. This was the focus of a recent study we undertook, along with retired US Army lieutenant colonel Dennis Blasko, for the Australian Department of Defence.

The PLA’s new-found might

By all appearances, the PLA has become a more formidable force over the past decade. The massive military parade in Beijing last October to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China showed off more than 700 pieces of modern military hardware.

One of these weapons, displayed publicly for the first time, was the DF-41, China’s most powerful nuclear-armed ballistic missile. It is capable of hitting targets anywhere in the US.

Under President Xi Jinping, China has also expanded its military footprint in the South China Sea. Military experts say China has used the global distraction of the coronavirus pandemic to shore up its position even further, drawing rebukes from neighbours. Tensions have heightened in recent days as the US and Australia have sent warships into the sea for drills.




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In the past few years, China has also stepped up its military exercises around Taiwan and disputed waters near Japan, and last December, commissioned its second aircraft carrier, the Shandong, into service with the PLA Navy.

The most recent annual assessment of the PLA by the Pentagon acknowledges China’s armed forces are developing the capability to dissuade, deter or, if ordered, defeat third-party armed forces (such as the US) seeking to intervene in “a large-scale, theatre campaign” in the region.

The report also expects the PLA to steadily improve its ability to project power into the Pacific and beyond.




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


A recent study commissioned by the US Congress goes further, saying China’s strategy aims to

disrupt, disable or destroy the critical systems that enable US military advantage.

The report called for a “new American way of war”.

All of these highlight the increasing capabilities of the PLA and underscore the challenges China’s rising hard power pose to the United States and its regional allies. But what of the challenges the PLA itself faces?

A Chinese destroyer taking part in a naval parade off the eastern port city of Qingdao last year.
Jason Lee/Reuters

Overcoming the ‘peace disease’

Interestingly, many of these problems are openly discussed in official Chinese publications aimed at a Chinese audience, but are curiously absent when speaking to a foreign audience.

Often, pithy formulaic sayings of a few characters summarise PLA shortcomings. For example, the “two inabilities” (两个能力不够), a term that has appeared hundreds of times in official Chinese media, makes reference to two shortcomings:

  • the PLA’s current ability to fight a modern war is insufficient, and

  • the current military commanders are also not up to the task.

Another frequent self-criticism highlights the “peace disease” (和平病), “peacetime habits” (和平积习) and “long-standing peace problems” (和平积弊).

The PLA was last at war in the mid-1980s, some 35 years years ago. Today’s Chinese military has very little combat experience.

Put more pointedly, far more soldiers serving in the PLA today have paraded down Chang’an Avenue in Beijing than have actually operated in combat.




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Xi Jinping’s grip on power is absolute, but there are new threats to his ‘Chinese dream’


Owing to these and many other acknowledged deficiencies, Xi launched the most ambitious and potentially far-reaching reforms in the PLA’s history in late 2015.

This massive structural overhaul aims to transform the PLA from a bloated, corrupt and degraded military to one increasingly capable of fighting and winning relatively short, but intensive, conflicts against technologically sophisticated adversaries, such as the United States.

But, recognising how difficult this transformation will be, the Chinese political and military leadership has set out a decades-long timeline to achieve it.

DF-17 ballistic missiles on parade in Tiananmen Square last year.
Xinhua News Agency handout/EPA

In Xi’s estimations, by 2020, the PLA’s mechanisation will be “basically achieved” and strategic capabilities will have seen major improvements; by 2035, national defence modernisation will be “basically completed”; and by mid-century, the PLA will be a “world-class military.”

In other words, this transformation – if successful – will take time.

At this relatively early point in the process, authoritative writings by PLA leaders and strategic analysts make clear that much more work is needed, especially more realistic training in joint operations, as well as improved leadership and greater communications integration across the services.

PLA modernisation depends more on “software” — human talent development, new war-fighting concepts and organisational transformation — than on the “hardware” of new weapons systems. This underscores the lengthy and difficult nature of reform.

‘Know the enemy and know yourself’

The many challenges facing the PLA’s reform effort suggest the Chinese leadership may lack confidence in its current ability to achieve victory against a strong adversary on the battlefield.

However, none of this means we should dismiss the PLA as a paper tiger. The recent indictment of PLA personnel for the 2017 hack of Equifax is a cautionary reminder of the Chinese military’s expansive capabilities.

Better hardware is not what China needs at the moment – it needs to improve its software.
ROMAN PILIPEY/EPA

Rather, it means a prudent assessment of the PLA must take its strengths and weaknesses into account, neither overestimating nor underestimating either one. Should strategic competition between the US and China continue to escalate, getting this right will be more important than ever.

So, is China appearing weak when it is strong, or appearing strong when it is weak? Much current evidence points to the latter.

But this situation will change and demands constant reassessment. Another quotation from Sun Tzu is instructive:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.

He added,

If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.The Conversation

Bates Gill, Professor of Asia-Pacific Security Studies, Macquarie University and Adam Ni, China researcher, Macquarie University

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