Australia can repair its relationship with China, here are 3 ways to start



Lukas Coch/AAP

Melissa Conley Tyler, University of Melbourne

China has certainly got Australia’s attention with a highly inflammatory tweet from a government spokesperson. It has provoked the desired reaction — a storm of outrage.




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Australia demands apology from China over ‘repugnant’ slur on Twitter


This is the latest in an ever-growing list of problems between Australia and China. In recent days, China imposed new tariffs on wine, while Australia threatened legal action on barley.

None of this is inevitable. Australia and China may not be best friends anytime soon, but they can reset the relationship.

Australia could make one big gesture and two small to improve its relationship with China. As federal parliament meets in Canberra, there is even an opportunity to start this week.

What’s wrong?

It’s the multi-billion dollar question: what could the Australian government do if it wanted to reset the relationship with China?

Sometimes when China has dealt out economic punishment, the desired result has been clear — such as pressuring South Korea to cancel a missile defence system. But in Australia’s case, China’s displeasure is not directed towards one policy. It’s more a sense Australia has been acting in an unfriendly, hostile manner and this has consequences.

We know this because China recently leaked a 14-point list of grievances via the Australian media. It contained no surprises, but is useful to show where there may be room to manoeuvre.

Beijing’s 14 points

Out of the 14, there were only a few relating to what I see as non-negotiable interests. These relate to Australia’s criticism of human rights abuses in China, cyber-attacks and the South China Sea dispute.

Quite a few should also be interpreted as venting — such as China’s criticism of Australia’s foreign interference powers and Australia’s decision to exclude Huawei and ZTE from the 5G network over national security concerns. Realistically, Australia is not going to reverse these decisions.




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Similarly, Australia’s call for an inquiry into COVID-19, questions over the origins of the virus, alleged raids on Chinese journalists and revoking visas for Chinese scholars are now in the past.

Others on the list are gripes China knows the Australian government can’t do much about, such as “antagonistic” media reports or members of parliament making “outrageous” comments.

But the language used in the 14-points suggests many of the problems are less about the policy and more about how it’s been communicated, such as former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announcing foreign interference legislation as “standing up to China”.




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An all-out trade war with China would cost Australia 6% of GDP


Australia may come to regret being stridently tough on China without thinking through the real-world consequences. It costs China very little to punish Australia economically in sectors where it has other suppliers or wants to encourage domestic production.

If the core problem is a perception that Australia is unfriendly, this suggests the best way to show a desire for better relations is through a big gesture — ideally one that is showy but low cost. China has said it wants actions, not words, so a speech alone won’t cut it.

The grand gesture

If Australia did want to signal a desire to be more friendly without changing any of its policies, what might it do?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a virtual press conference, responding to China's tweet.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has demanded China apologise for an offensive tweet about Australian soldiers.
Lukas Coch/ AAP

The best candidate would be to sign up for the Belt and Road Initiative. There is zero chance this will happen — despite earlier neutral comments, the federal government has made this clear. But it meets all the criteria for a gesture to reset the relationship.

First, it’s entirely symbolic and doesn’t bind Australia to do anything. Australia can participate in individual projects or not as it chooses. Second, there’s no material cost to Australia, or any need to alter substantive policies. Yet it would be read as a significant gesture by China.




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Why is there so much furore over China’s Belt and Road Initiative?


The fact that it’s not on the table shows how the range of options to pursue the national interest has been narrowed by priming the public to see China as an enemy, rather than as a challenge to be managed.

Two other options

There are two smaller options that are achievable and in Australia’s interests. And they are both before parliament.

First, the Senate is currently debating a bill to give the Foreign Affairs Minister the power to cancel international agreements entered into by state governments, local councils and universities. China has specifically named this in its grievances as “targeting” China.




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I’ve argued in detail why it’s a terrible piece of legislation that would impose a large compliance burden and negatively affect Australia’s international engagement. It would be in Australia’s own interests to drop it and come up with a better, more targeted response.

Second, parliament is also looking at amendments to foreign investment rules, which China singled out at the top of its list as “opaque”. Foreign investment puts money into the Australian economy so this is an area of potential mutual interest.

China’s complaint is the lack of transparency about which investments get approved — it sees the process as ideological. The Australian government could, for example, postpone proposed amendments and consult with investor countries about how the process could be improved in Australia’s self-interest.

A diplomatic mindset

Some will say Australia shouldn’t do any of these things precisely because China might want them. And China is hardly helping its case by exercising subtle or effective diplomacy.

But deciding to always oppose lets China control your behaviour. We need a negotiation mentality. We need to find things we don’t mind giving that China values in order to get what we want. That’s not “capitulation” or “obeisance” — it’s acting in our own self-interest.

Scott Morrison walks past Xi Jinping at the G20 in June 2019.
Australia cannot change China, but it can change how it responds.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Australia has no ability to remake China into a completely different country. We need to live with it. This means both standing up to China and getting along — hardening our defences, while ensuring our economic prosperity. Without an economy, a country can’t pay to keep itself safe.

Australia is not under military attack, offensive as China’s “wolf warrior diplomats” can be.

Australia and China have disputes that can and should be managed diplomatically. It is not inevitable we must have a bad relationship – and it’s certainly not a sign of success if we do.The Conversation

Melissa Conley Tyler, Research Fellow, Asia Institute, University of Melbourne

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

Why Australian commanders need to be held responsible for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan



Mick Tsikas/AAP

Paul Taucher, Murdoch University and Dean Aszkielowicz, Murdoch University

Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison made clear he expects senior Australian officers to face some degree of accountability for any crimes allegedly committed by special forces in Afghanistan.

So far, however, others have been more circumspect. While Justice Paul Brereton’s shocking report last month called for 19 Australian soldiers to be referred to the federal police to be prosecuted for possible crimes, it stopped short of recommending commanding officers be held responsible.

Lieutenant-General Rick Burr, the head of the Army, cut short a news conference when asked whether he should resign in the wake of the scandal last week, and General Angus Campbell, the Defence Force chief, said commanding officers would be dealt with on a “case-by-case basis”.

Burr says military leaders are ‘holding ourselves to account’ over the allegations raised in the Brereton report.
Lukas Coch/AAP

The Defence Force has foreshadowed there will likely be administrative punishment for some officers, including possible demotions, stripping of medals or removal from service.

This is a start. However, Campbell and the rest of the Defence Force leadership need to begin a serious discussion about the accountability and responsibility of commanding officers in the military as they move forward from the Brereton report.




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How commanding officers were dealt with in the past

This not the first time the Australian military has dealt with this complex moral and legal question.

After the second world war, Australia, the US, UK and other allies tried suspected Japanese war criminals under international law. These trials saw the first use of command responsibility.

This doctrine holds commanding officers responsible for crimes that are committed by their subordinates during wartime, when the commanding officers knew, or should have known, that they occurred. These crimes can include massacres, mistreatment of prisoners of war and murder.

Many Japanese officers were sentenced to death during the trials because they failed to prevent, halt or punish the crimes committed by their soldiers, even when they did not explicitly know the crimes were occurring. Other Japanese officers were more fortunate and received prison terms.

The court martial convened in Darwin in 1946 to try Japanese prisoners of war charged with war crimes.
Australian War Memorial

Why accountability matters

The claim in the Brereton report that Australian officers were not in a position to know — and therefore to act — on alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan has, in some eyes, absolved them of responsibility.

However, there seems to be an acknowledgement within defence circles that further actions could have, and perhaps should have, been taken by Australian commanders to address cultural issues within the SAS, and to impose greater scrutiny on units that were on high-intensity combat rotations.




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Command responsibility is a difficult legal doctrine to grapple with. At the core, this is because officers could be held legally responsible for criminal acts they did not encourage, order or directly take part in under both Commonwealth military law and international laws.

Holding an individual criminally responsible for the actions of others goes against the personal responsibility that our criminal justice system is largely based on.

Nonetheless, it is important for several reasons that the Australian military holds its officers responsible for their units and subordinates.

For one, disciplining senior officers is critical for any attempt to reorganise and reform the Australian special forces following the explosive allegations put forth in the Brereton report.

The report revealed that some officers enabled a culture of heavy drinking, poor discipline and the pursuit of personal glory within the special forces. It is therefore critical these officers are removed from their positions to rebuild an effective, well-disciplined and respected special forces group.

Pursuing commanding officers is also important for the soldiers that served on the ground. The report has raised serious questions about how elite forces were pushed to their breaking point. Australia needs to know what role commanders had in that.

Of course, turning the focus on the moral responsibility of senior officers is not intended to absolve the alleged crimes committed by individuals. The point is simply that the military needs to demonstrate to the public, as well as to past and current members of the armed services, that senior officers cannot completely avoid responsibility for what happened.

Australia’s international reputation is at stake

Investigating senior officers, and where appropriate, taking action against them, is also an important part of restoring the reputation and credibility of the Australian military abroad.

The Australian Army has long been a respected member of international coalitions. It has built a reputation for working effectively with allies and partners, and for taking international law seriously.

It now faces an international scandal, and its reputation is at stake.

This is particularly the case in nations like Afghanistan, where the Australian military was instrumental in combating often brutal forces that held little regard for human rights. Counter-insurgency operations need to win the hearts and minds of the local population. For the Australian military to rebuild its reputation in countries where it operates, it needs to be able to hold itself accountable for its mistakes.

If we can’t do this, our position in the international rules-based system can be questioned, as it already has been. A failure to hold officers responsible also de-legitimises Australia’s questioning of foreign governments on human rights abuses, as well as the government’s calls for justice in other international crimes.




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It’s time for Australia’s SAS to stop its culture of cover-up and take accountability for possible war crimes


The Conversation


Paul Taucher, PhD Candidate in History, Murdoch University and Dean Aszkielowicz, Lecturer, Murdoch University

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

‘War in space’ would be a catastrophe. A return to rules-based cooperation is the only way to keep space peaceful



SpaceX

Steven Freeland, Western Sydney University; David Kuan-Wei Chen, McGill University, and Ram S. Jakhu, McGill University

In 2019, US President Donald Trump declared “space is the new war-fighting domain”. This followed the creation of the US Space Force and a commitment to “American dominance” in outer space.

Other space-faring nations, and those who fear the acceleration of an arms race in space, were greatly concerned. At the latest meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, states noted with alarm that “preventing conflicts in outer space and preserving outer space for peaceful purposes” is more necessary than ever.

The election of Joe Biden as the next US president and Kamala Harris as vice-president suggests there is cause for hope. The future of space may look more like the recent launch of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission to the International Space Station.

Onboard were US and Japanese astronauts, who joined Russian and US crew already living aboard the ISS. As the Falcon 9 rocket soared into space, the collaborative, cooperative and commercial nature of space was once again clear for all to see.




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The US-Russian Space Station mission is a study in cooperation


Cooperation, not confrontation

The incoming Biden-Harris administration appears more interested in international cooperation, and much more cognisant of the challenges of climate change, pandemics and other global issues. A carefully calibrated space policy can do much to address “terrestrial” challenges, while still allowing for many positive space activities.

Since 1967, human activity in space has been guided by the universally accepted principles embedded in the Outer Space Treaty. This has ensured we have had no military conflict in space, and required the exploration and use of space “for the benefit and in the interests of all countries”.

Any alternative vision of the future of space is dreadful to consider. Rhetoric about the inevitability of “war in space” makes such conflict more likely and risks a “tragedy of the commons” in space.




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The US plan for a Space Force risks escalating a ‘space arms race’


Any space war would have no clear winner. In a complex, globally shared arena such as space, it is important that states abide by accepted rules and established practices.

The US has great scientific and technological advantages and a robust and competitive commercial space sector. Instead of seeking dominance, it can better serve the world (and itself) by focusing its leadership on harnessing space for the benefit of all humankind.

In a promising sign, Biden and Harris’s NASA review team is composed of an outstanding group of space scientists as well as a former astronaut.

The current administration re-established the National Space Council, which is chaired by the vice president, and this has reinvigorated American investment and leadership in space exploration. This includes an ambitious plan to return to the Moon under the terms of the Artemis Accords.

Astronaut Soichi Noguchi is greeted by astronaut Kate Rubins as he enters the International Space Station from the vestibule between the SpaceX Dragon capsule and the ISS.
NASA

Respect the rules

To ensure the fragile and shared domain of outer space does not become an arena for conflict, the rules that apply to any military uses of space need to be understood, respected and further developed. Failure to do so could lead to devastation, disruption and impact on civilian lives, particularly in the largest and most powerful countries like the US, whose economies and societies are heavily dependent on space infrastructure. Their access to space has given them the greatest competitive advantage, but they are therefore the most vulnerable if that access is compromised.

Space is a “congested, contested and competitive” area where scientific, commercial and economic interests converge, as well as military and national security concerns. In this sense space is like the radio frequency spectrum, which has been successfully regulated and managed for decades under international rules adopted through the International Telecommunication Union.

But space is also much more. As the recent Crew-1 mission demonstrated, there are significant benefits when nations come together and cooperate. Enlightened leadership, guided by commonly agreed laws and practices and a recognition that we share outer space as custodians for future generations, is the only realistic way forward.The Conversation

Steven Freeland, Professor of International Law, Western Sydney University; David Kuan-Wei Chen, Executive Director, Centre for Research in Air and Space Law, McGill University, and Ram S. Jakhu, Director, Institute of Air and Space Law, McGill 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.

‘I still cannot get over it’: 75 years after Japan atomic bombs, a nuclear weapons ban treaty is finally realised



Eugene Hoshiko/AP

Gwyn McClelland, University of New England

The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will finally come into force after the 50th country (Honduras) ratified it over the weekend. The treaty will make the development, testing, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons illegal for those countries that have signed it.

This is an extraordinary achievement for those who have suffered the most from these weapons — including the hibakusha (survivors) of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the islanders who lived through nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific.

Since 1956, the hibakusha in Japan, South Korea, Brazil and elsewhere have been some of the most strident campaigners against the use of these weapons. Among them is a group of Japanese Catholics from Nagasaki whom I interviewed as part of my research collecting the oral histories of atomic bomb survivors.

A 92-year-old hibakusha of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945 and a brother in a Catholic order, Ozaki Tōmei, explained the significance of the treaty to survivors like him. He was orphaned from the bombing at 17 and never found his mother’s body.

The Germans made tools for war including poisonous gas, which was [eventually] banned […] However, when the USA made an atomic weapon, then they … wanted to try it out. It was a war […] they were human.

And so this is why we say we have to eliminate nuclear weapons […] They said they did it to end the war, but for the people who were struck, it was horrific […] there was no need to use it.

Lanterns with messages of peace are lit on the 75th anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing.
DAI KUROKAWA/EPA

Treaty does not have support of nuclear powers

The treaty was adopted at the United Nations in 2017 by a vote of 122 nations in favour, one against and one abstention.

Sixty-nine nations, however, have not signed it, including all of the nuclear powers such as the US, UK, Russia, China, France, India, Pakistan and North Korea, as well as NATO member states (apart from the Netherlands who voted against), Japan and Australia.

Since the treaty was adopted, it needed ratification by 50 countries to come into force. This will now happen in 90 days.

Shacks made from scraps of debris from buildings that were leveled in the aftermath of the atomic bomb that was dropped over Nagasaki.
AP

The campaign for the treaty has relied heavily on civil society and organisations such as the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

And from the beginning, it has exposed political fault lines. The United States has been particularly outspoken in its opposition to the treaty, warning last week the treaty “turns back the clock on verification and disarmament and is dangerous” to the 50-year-old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).




Read more:
World politics explainer: The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki


The NPT sought to prevent the spread of nuclear arms beyond the five original weapons powers (the US, Russia, China, UK and France). It has been signed by 190 countries, including those five nations.

The head of ICAN, Beatrice Fihn, says the new treaty banning nuclear weapons merely builds on the nonproliferation treaty.

There’s no way you can undermine the nonproliferation treaty by banning nuclear weapons. It’s the end goal of the nonproliferation treaty.

States like Japan and Australia have opposed the treaty on the grounds their security is boosted by the US stockpile of nuclear weapons. Japan’s former prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has said the treaty

was created without taking into account the realities of security.

Survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bomb await emergency medical treatment.
AP

The efforts of hibakusha in advocating for a treaty

Making the bomb illegal turns an old US justification for the weapon on its head. Harry Stimson, the former US war secretary, argued in 1947 the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary to compel the Japanese to surrender at the end of the second world war.

The atomic bomb was more than a weapon of terrible destruction; it was a psychological weapon.

The damage from the bombings was colossal. It is unknown how many people were killed, but estimates range from 110,000 (the US army’s toll) to 210,000 (the figure accepted by ICAN and others).




Read more:
Ban the bomb: 70 years on, the nuclear threat looms as large as ever


At the forefront of the campaign to support the nuclear weapons ban treaty have been the voices of hibakusha who experienced the carnage firsthand.

Another Catholic hibakusha, Nakamura Kazutoshi, told me the stockpiling of nuclear weapons enables states to carry out genocide.

In war, we are at a level below animals. Among monkeys, or chimpanzees, there are no animals who would carry out a genocide.

Nakamura Kazutoshi.
Author provided

A third hibakusha, 90-year-old Jōji Fukahori, told me about how he lost his mother and three younger siblings in the Nagasaki bombing.

His younger brother, Kōji, died an excruciating death around a week after the bombing, walking in the hot ash with no shoes and complaining to his brother, “I’m so hot!”

At the site where Fukahori’s brother was exposed, the temperature was about 1,000 degrees Celsius. Fukahori said,

You would have thought everyone would have turned into charcoal.

For Fukahori, the lasting effects of radiation exposure is a major reason why nuclear weapons must be banned. He continued:

the terror of radiation has to be fully communicated … The atomic bomb is unacceptable. I still cannot get over it.

Since 2009, Fukahori has been speaking out at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and on the Peace Boat, a non-governmental organisation that organises cruises where passengers learn about the consequences of using nuclear weapons from hibakusha.

Jōji Fukahori telling his story.

Pressure building on Japan

The Japanese government is now under mounting pressure to ratify the treaty. Major Japanese financial institutions and companies have said they will no longer fund the production of nuclear weapons and nearly a third of all local assemblies have adopted proposals calling on the government to act.

The government, however, has been unmoved. In August, Abe gave a speech at a memorial service in Nagasaki, in which he suggested the effects of the bombings had been overcome.

Seventy-five years ago today, Nagasaki was reduced to ashes, with not a single tree or blade of grass remaining. Yet through the efforts of its citizens, it achieved reconstruction beautifully as we see today. Mindful of this, we again feel strongly that there is no trial that cannot be overcome and feel acutely how precious peace is.

Visitors pray for the atomic bomb victims at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
Koji Ueda/AP

A Japanese atomic researcher, who knows how Fukahori and other hibakusha have not been able to move on, told me Abe’s words don’t go far enough:

Rather than placing a ‘full-stop’ at the end of damages such as this, we have a necessity to make our claim that the damages are not finished.

The nuclear weapons ban treaty offers a moment of hope for all the hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still with us after 75 years. It is certainly their hope the ratification of the treaty now moves us one step closer to a world free of nuclear war.




Read more:
Instead of congratulating ICAN on its Nobel Peace Prize, Australia is resisting efforts to ban the bomb


The Conversation


Gwyn McClelland, Lecturer, Japanese Studies, University of New England

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

Nagorno-Karabakh: why Iran is trying to remain neutral over the conflict on its doorstep


Marzieh Kouhi-Esfahani, Durham University

Fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan intensified in early October over Nagorno-Karabakh, the disputed region in the South Caucasus at the centre of a conflict that has lasted for more than three decades.

The South Caucasus is sandwiched between Russia to the north, Iran to the south and Turkey to the west. Out of these three regional powers, Turkey’s vocal and military support for Azerbaijan has bolstered Baku’s confidence to refuse mediation in the conflict. Meanwhile, Moscow – which has historically been an important mediator in this conflict – is also committed to protect Armenia under the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a regional security alliance.

Iran, however, has adopted an official neutral stance and has repeatedly offered to mediate over the past three decades. It’s doing the same today, with Iranian officials stating they are working on a peace plan.




Read more:
Nagorno-Karabakh: are Armenia and Azerbaijan sliding towards all-out war?


Mediation efforts

The first war over Nagorno-Karabakh broke out in the late 1980s, resulting in Azerbaijan losing 20% of its territory to Armenia.

Tehran made an extensive effort to broker a ceasefire in 1992, only to see it violated by the Armenian militia within hours, discrediting Iran’s role as a mediator.

Although another ceasefire was eventually brokered in 1994, numerous rounds of negotiations, as well as regional and international mediation, most notably by the OSCE Minsk group, have not led to peace – or even a partial resolution of the dispute. While conflict has repeatedly flared up along the front line since then, for example in 2016, the current escalation, which began on September 27, is by far the most serious.

Iran is in no real position to mediate now, particularly given its own turbulent relationship with Baku, as well as international sensitivity over Iran’s increased regional influence. The only reason Iran repeats its offer of mediation is to confirm to Armenia and Azerbaijan – and their respective ethnic minorities and supporters inside Iran – that Tehran remains neutral. Such neutrality is important for Iran’s own domestic stability.

Historic ties

Until the early 19th century, Georgia, Armenia and the territories of the present-day Republic of Azerbaijan (known then as Arran) were under Persian control. Iran then lost these territories to Russia following its defeats in two wars.

The 1918 collapse of Russia’s Tsarist empire and the weakening of Moscow’s hold on Arran provided the opportunity for nationalist parties. Supported by the Ottoman Empire, they created the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, which was integrated into the Soviet Union in 1920.

While, prior to 1918, there had been no political entity on the north of the Aras river with the name Azerbaijan, the people of Arran shared Turkic ethnicity and language with those in the north-western provinces of Iran, historically called Eastern and Western Azarbaijan.

This makes today’s 9 million population of Azerbaijan brethren of 16% of Iran’s population – another 20 million people. Iran is also home to more than 100,000 highly respected and well-integrated Armenians. They have strong and at times useful connections to the global Armenian diaspora, which has influential lobbies in western countries, especially the US.

With such an ethnic mix, any official support by Tehran for either Armenia or Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabach conflict could deepen the social faultlines to the point of conflict. It would also add to the various social dilemmas that the Iranian state is already facing, arising from economic hardship caused by US sanctions, rampant corruption and mismanagement, as well as public dissatisfaction with the state’s repressive policies.

At a time when social cohesion is in tatters, taking sides could easily result in widening ethnic divisions that could put Iran’s political and territorial integrity at risk.

Wary of Baku

As I have explained in my own research, with a shared Shia religion and civilisational background, Iran could have been Azerbaijan’s natural ally – especially as Armenia is a non-Muslim country. But Azerbaijan’s constant expansionist approach towards Iranian territories since its independence makes such an alliance highly unlikely, no matter who rules Iran.

Azerbaijan has made significant investments
in promoting separatist ideas among Turkic Iranians and maintained an appetite for integrating the Iranian provinces of Eastern and Western Azarbaijan into the republic. This has been one of the main reasons why Iran’s ruling Shia theocracy is reluctant to take Azerbaijan’s side, despite the fact that the majority of Azerbaijan’s population is also Shia.

Baku’s partnerships with the US and Israel, as well as its secular government with an adamant resistance to any influence from Iran, also increase the Islamic Republic’s hesitance to support Azerbaijan.

Armenia, on the other hand, has not demonstrated any expansionist policies towards Iranian territories. Nor has it developed relations with Iran’s nemeses – the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia – to a degree that undermines its cordial relations with Tehran. Still, it would be counter-intuitive for Iran’s Shia theocracy to overtly ally with a Christian republic against another Shia majority country.

This is why the best option for protecting Iran’s security and stability is for Tehran to maintain its neutral stance while supporting international initiatives to resolve the conflict.The Conversation

Marzieh Kouhi-Esfahani, Teaching Fellow, Durham University

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

Shots fired in the Himalayas: a dangerous development in the China-India border standoff



Mukhtar Khan/AP

Stephen Peter Westcott, Murdoch University

In the midst of all the stories about China’s oppression in Hong Kong and Xinjiang and its expulsion of foreign journalists, a recent clash on its border with India may pose the greater threat to Asian security.

For the first time in 45 years, shots were fired this week.

Confrontation on the roof of the world

During the evening of September 7, Chinese and Indian troops confronted each other along their undefined, de facto border, known as the “Line of Actual Control” (LAC).

This in itself was not unusual. The two sides have been locked in several tense standoffs along the LAC since May.

What makes this confrontation stand out is it involved the first known use of firearms on the border in almost half a century.

What happened?

China and India have accused each other of provoking this confrontation, which occurred in the Rezang-La heights area, just south of Pangong Lake.

According to Indian reports, there were between 30 and 40 Chinese troops involved. Photographs published in Indian media show Chinese soldiers armed with crude Guandao-style polearms, as well as standard issue rifles.

It is unclear how many Indian troops were involved or how they were equipped.

Pangong Lake near the India-China border
Border tensions have been building for months between India and China.
Manish Swarup/AP

China claims Indian troops crossed the LAC and “blatantly fired shots” when Chinese border troops moved to deter them. India, has strenuously denied this, saying Chinese soldiers crossed the LAC and were blocked by an Indian forward position, who they then tried to intimidate by firing “a few rounds in the air”.

No troops have been reported injured or killed.

Regardless of which side actually fired the shots, the tactic did not work. Both Chinese and Indian soldiers remain in a stand-off, reportedly only 200 metres apart.

Unravelling rules of engagement

This recent exchange represents a troubling escalation between the two countries.
It directly contravenes the rules and norms painstakingly established by China and India to govern behaviour on the border.

Negotiations on the disputed border have always been tough for China and India. The two sides took nearly 12 years of tentative negotiations before signing their first treaty in 1993, in which they agreed to “maintain peace and tranquillity” along the LAC.




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Subsequent agreements were reached after negotiations in 1996, 2005 and 2013. These govern military conduct on the border and guidelines for a diplomatic resolution.

The prohibition against the use of weapons along the LAC was first laid out in the 1996 agreement.

Neither side shall open fire, cause bio-degradation, use hazardous chemicals, conduct blast operations or hunt with guns and explosives within two kilometres from the Line of Actual Control.

Until this week, China and India have upheld this agreement, even when previous border patrol confrontations became heated.

However, both sides have been pushing the limits of what the other will tolerate and have trying to exploit loopholes and technicalities for several years now.

Border confrontations have gradually escalated from farcical shoving matches to fully-fledged brawls and stone flinging, which caused injuries in 2017.




Read more:
China and India’s deadly Himalayan clash is a big test for Modi. And a big concern for the world


This year has seen both sides up the ante, with the introduction of makeshift clubs in a lethal melee at the Galwan Valley in June and China now seemingly equipping some border patrols with polearms.

Earlier this month, Indian media reported India was using new rules of engagement. This change allows its border troops to use whatever means are available for “tactical signalling” against the Chinese.

A dangerous deadlock

As two of the world’s largest militaries – and two nuclear-armed countries – even a limited border war between China and India would be devastating for regional peace and stability. It would likely ruin what little cooperation there is left and potentially pull in third parties, such as Pakistan or the United States.

Indian leader Narendra Modi points finger during conversation with China's Xi Jinping.
War between India and China would be devastating.
Manish Swarup/AP

It is clear from the flurry of diplomatic activity between China and India over the past months that they feel the gravity of their situation.

But despite both sides proclaiming they seek a peaceful resolution to the ongoing standoffs, a culture of mistrust continues to poison discussions.

China and India’s foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Moscow on Thursday to discuss the border standoff in person for the first time since the crisis began.




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China’s leaders are strong and emboldened. It’s wrong to see them as weak and insecure


Both countries will now need to engage in some masterful and innovative diplomatic work to find a way to rejuvenate their diplomacy.

And find a mutually face-saving way to disengage before the standoff escalates out of control.The Conversation

Stephen Peter Westcott, Post-doc research fellow, Murdoch 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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Scott Morrison pivots Australian Defence Force to meet more threatening regional outlook


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.

China and India’s deadly Himalayan clash is a big test for Modi. And a big concern for the world.



Michael Kappeler DPA/AAP

Ian Hall, Griffith University

Sometime on Monday, an Indian army patrol skirmished with Chinese troops in the Galwan River Valley, high in the Himalayas.

According to reports, no guns were involved, but the fight left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead from injuries caused by stones, makeshift clubs, and falls down the steep cliffs of the valley.

Although standoffs and even fistfights between Chinese and Indian troops have been relatively common in recent years, there have been no deaths on the disputed border for decades.




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Such confrontations are usually defused by talks between commanders on the ground, leading to choreographed disengagements.

In this case, it appears those processes have failed, and at a moment when relations between China and India – both nuclear armed states – are already tense.

Origins of the dispute

When India gained its independence in 1947, it inherited unsettled frontiers with several neighbours.

That situation was exacerbated by Chinese leader Mao Zedong’s decision to seize control of Tibet – which up to that point had been a buffer state – three years later.

More than a decade of failed negotiations to agree a border followed, to the frustration of all. Then, in October 1962, in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Mao ordered a sudden attack on Indian forces.

China decisively won this short “pedagogic war” – designed to teach New Delhi a lesson. It gained ground from India, but then withdrew its forces, bringing them back close to their starting positions.

Since then, a “Line of Actual Control” (LAC) has, in effect, constituted the frontier.

Several more fruitless rounds of talks to settle an official border have taken place. And there have been several military standoffs, including one in 1975 that left four Indian soldiers dead.

Mounting tensions and the threat of war

The Galwan River Valley incident is by far the worst to occur on the LAC for some time. It also comes against a backdrop of several years of deteriorating relations between China and India, dating from the rise to power of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Since 2013, New Delhi has reported a series of incursions by Chinese troops into what it regards at its territory.




Read more:
China-India border dispute a grim sign for stability in Asia


The visits of both Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in May 2013, and Xi in September 2014, were overshadowed by such incidents.

And in mid-2017, there was a ten-week standoff between Chinese and Indian troops in Bhutan, in a disputed area called Doklam (or Donglang).

During that crisis, Beijing openly warned that if New Delhi did not pull back, it might go to war.

Disagreement over other issues

At the same time, China and India have quarrelled and competed over a number of other issues.

New Delhi has emerged as a vocal critic of Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and has tried to dissuade other states in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region from signing on to BRI projects.

China and India disagree over more than their borders.
Harish Tyagi EPA/AAP

India has complained about China’s trade practices, pointing to a growing trade deficit with its northern neighbour, as well as Beijing’s alleged attempts to influence the policies of smaller states such as Nepal.

Meanwhile, India has strengthened security ties with the United States, Japan and Australia among others – to Beijing’s obvious irritation.

The biggest test yet

There can be little doubt that what just happened in the Galwan River Valley constitutes the biggest test yet faced by Narendra Modi’s government.

India’s prime minister has long been portrayed as a “strongman”. This image has been burnished by retaliatory strikes against Pakistani targets for cross border terrorism in 2016 and 2019, as well as by his government’s apparent resilience during the Doklam crisis.

Indian public opinion is already angry with China over COVID-19 and in the wake of the deaths on the LAC, some media outlets, as well as opposition politicians, are calling for retaliation.

There have been protests in India after the Himalayan clash.
Sanjeev Gupta EPA/AAP

Modi’s options are, however, constrained.

If he backs down, or even concedes the area around Galwan River Valley that some think Chinese soldiers are now occupying, he could face a political backlash from Indian voters.

If he orders some kind of military response, he risks a wider war. There have been persistent reports of troop build-ups right along the 3,500 kilometre frontier with China.

There is no guarantee a limited action would not escalate into something bigger, nor that India’s friends and partners, including the US, would support such a move.

All eyes now on China

Much depends on what Beijing hopes to gain.

If Xi is simply seeking to humiliate India for perceived transgressions – and warn it off deepening ties with its security partners – he may now order his troops to pull back, having made his point.

But if he wants to redraw the border and send a message to others – in Taiwan, Japan, Southeast Asia, or elsewhere – that China is determined to take what it claims – then deescalating the situation will be very difficult for New Delhi.




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The Conversation


Ian Hall, Deputy Director (Research), Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University

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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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.