Why is southeast Asia so concerned about AUKUS and Australia’s plans for nuclear submarines?


James Chin, University of TasmaniaThe announcement of a new strategic alliance between Australia, the US and UK (AUKUS) has caught many by surprise. Besides France, which reacted with fury over Australia’s scrapping of a major submarine deal with a French company, few countries were as surprised as Australia’s neighbours to the north, the ASEAN members.

In particular, Indonesia and Malaysia have come out strongly against Australia’s plan to acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines with the help of the US and UK. Even Singapore, Australia’s most reliable ally in the region, has expressed concern.

The Afghanistan debacle has left a bad taste among many Indo-Pacific countries, and some are wondering if the timing of the AUKUS announcement was intended as a show of US power in the region to reassure jittery partners.

Fear of a nuclear arms race

To understand the deep anxiety in Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and other ASEAN capitals requires some context on where they are coming from.

First, many of them think there is no such thing as acquiring nuclear-powered submarines without the prospect of acquiring nuclear weapons in the future.

Australia has not joined the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which requires parties to agree not to develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile or threaten to use nuclear weapons.

The Morrison government says the treaty would be inconsistent with its alliance with the US, a nuclear weapon power.




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However, Australia did ratify the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1973 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1998. And Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week Australia has “no plans” to pursue nuclear weapons.

Yet, some ASEAN countries are worried the AUKUS agreement is a clear signal the West will take a more aggressive stand towards China by admitting Australia to the nuclear club.

Both Indonesia (the unofficial leader of ASEAN) and Malaysia fear AUKUS will also lead to a major arms race in the wider Indo-Pacific region.

The potential for conflict in South China Sea

The new agreement also signals that the US, Australia and UK view the South China Sea as a key venue for this contest against China.

The ASEAN nations have always preached maintaining southeast Asia as a “zone of peace, freedom and neutrality”, free from interference by any outside powers. In 1995, the member states also signed the Treaty of Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone, which committed to keep nuclear weapons out of the region. Not a single nuclear power has signed on to it.

Although everyone knows China, the US, Britain and France have ignored these protocols by manoeuvring armed warships through the South China Sea — not to mention China’s building of military bases on disputed islands there — ASEAN does not want to see this number grow.

A Chinese missile frigate launches an anti-ship missile.
A Chinese missile frigate launches an anti-ship missile during a military exercise in the South China Sea.
Zha Chunming/Xinhua/AP

Australian nuclear-powered submarines have the potential to change the dynamics in the South China Sea and make the Chinese much more nervous. There have already been plenty of “close encounter” incidents between the Chinese and US navies in the disputed waters, as well as the Chinese navy and ships belonging to ASEAN members. The region doesn’t need yet another potential “close encounter” to worry about.

The ASEAN states are already very worried about the China-US rivalry playing out in its backyard. And the new AUKUS agreement reinforces the idea that the opinions of the ASEAN members matter little when it comes to the superpowers and how they operate in the region.




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The region has always insisted on the idea of “ASEAN centrality” in their relations with the world — that ASEAN members must decide what is best for Southeast Asia — but as AUKUS shows, nuclear nations play a different game.

Indonesia is especially unhappy with Australia given the new agreement will affect it directly, given their common maritime border.

Morrison had already been forced to cancel his upcoming trip to Jakarta after President Joko Widodo said he would be unavailable to meet — a decision that was made before the AUKUS announcement. This will add another layer to the strained relationship.

Is there anyone happy about the deal?

While in public, most southeast Asian governments have expressed uneasiness with AUKUS, there is a school of thought that says the more hawkish voices in the region will probably accept the agreement in the long term, as it will help keep China’s aggression in check.

For those in the “hawk” camp, the number one long-term threat to regional security is China. Many think the strategic balance of power has been tilting too much in Beijing’s favour in the past decade, especially after China started rushing to build military bases in the South China Sea and using its navy to protect Chinese fishing vessels in disputed waters.

So, they believe any moves to remind China it does not have a carte blanche to do what it wants in Southeast Asia is a good thing.

Japan and South Korea are clearly in this camp and their muted reaction to AUKUS suggests they are in favour of a “re-balancing” in the region. Taiwan and Vietnam are probably on this side, as well.

The only downside is that Australia may use its nuclear-powered submarines to bully ASEAN countries. If Canberra uses its nuclear submarines as a bargaining chip, it will simply turn public opinion in the region against Australia.

Implications for Australia-ASEAN relations

If anything, the AUKUS move reinforced the widely held perception that Australia’s mantra of being “part of the region” is, in fact, “empty talk”. Australia has firmly signalled its intentions to put its Anglo allies in the US and UK first.

AUKUS also reinforces the view that Australia cannot be accepted as a regional partner or player. This, of course, is nothing new. For years, the ASEAN bloc has seen Australia as “deputy sheriff” to the US, though this view would not necessarily be shared in public.

So, while AUKUS came as a surprise to many in the region, an alliance of this sort was probably bound to happen. It’s just that nobody expected it to happen so soon.The Conversation

James Chin, Professor of Asian Studies, University of Tasmania

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

ANZUS without NZ? Why the new security pact between Australia, the UK and US might not be all it seems


Alexander Gillespie, University of WaikatoWe live, to borrow a phrase, in interesting times. The pandemic aside, relations between the superpowers are tense. The sudden arrival of the new AUKUS security agreement between Australia, the US and UK simply adds to the general sense of unease internationally.

The relationship between America and China had already deteriorated under the presidency of Donald Trump and has not improved under Joe Biden. New satellite evidence suggests China might be building between 100 and 200 silos for a new generation of nuclear intercontinental missiles.

At the same time, the US relationship with North Korea continues to smoulder, with both North and South Korea conducting missile tests designed to intimidate.

And, of course, Biden has just presided over the foreign policy disaster of withdrawal from Afghanistan. His administration needs something new with a positive spin.

Enter AUKUS, more or less out of the blue. So far, it is just a statement launched by the member countries’ leaders. It has not yet been released as a formal treaty.

The Indo-Pacific pivot

The new agreement speaks of “maritime democracies” and “ideals and shared commitment to the international rules-based order” with the objective to “deepen diplomatic, security and defence co-operation in the Indo-Pacific region”.

“Indo-Pacific region” is code for defence against China, with the partnership promising greater sharing and integration of defence technologies, cyber capabilities and “additional undersea capabilities”. Under the agreement, Australia also stands to gain nuclear-powered submarines.




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To demonstrate the depth of the relationship, the agreement highlights how “for more than 70 years, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have worked together, along with other important allies and partners”.

At which point New Zealand could have expected a drum roll, too, having only just marked the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS agreement. That didn’t happen, and New Zealand was conspicuously absent from the choreographed announcement hosted by the White House.

Having remained committed to the Five Eyes security agreement and having put boots on the ground in Afghanistan for the duration, “NZ” appears to have been taken out of ANZUS and replaced with “UK”.

Don’t mention the nukes

The obvious first question is whether New Zealand was asked to join the new arrangement. While Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has welcomed the new partnership, she has confirmed: “We weren’t approached, nor would I expect us to be.”

That is perhaps surprising. Despite problematic comments by New Zealand’s trade minister about Australia’s dealings with China, and the foreign minister’s statement that she “felt uncomfortable” with the expanding remit of the Five Eyes, reassurances by Ardern about New Zealand’s commitment should have calmed concerns.




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One has to assume, therefore, that even if New Zealand had been asked to join, it might have chosen to opt out anyway. There are three possible explanations for this.

The first involves the probable provision to Australia of nuclear-powered military submarines. Any mention of nuclear matters makes New Zealand nervous. But Australia has been at pains to reiterate its commitment to “leadership on global non-proliferation”.

Similar commitments or work-arounds could probably have been made for New Zealand within the AUKUS agreement, too, but that is now moot.

The dragon in the room

The second reason New Zealand may have declined is because the new agreement is perceived as little more than an expensive purchasing agreement for the Australian navy, wrapped up as something else.

This may be partly true. But the rewards of the relationship as stated in the initial announcement go beyond submarines and look enticing. In particular, anything that offers cutting-edge technologies and enhances the interoperability of New Zealand’s defence force with its allies would not be lightly declined.




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ANZUS at 70: Together for decades, US, Australia, New Zealand now face different challenges from China


The third explanation could lie in an assumption that this is not a new security arrangement. Evidence for this can be seen in the fact that New Zealand is not the only ally missing from the new arrangement.

Canada, the other Five Eyes member, is also not at the party. Nor are France, Germany, India and Japan. If this really was a quantum shift in strategic alliances, the group would have been wider — and more formal than a new partnership announced at a press conference.

Nonetheless, the fact that New Zealand’s supposedly extra-special relationship with Britain, Australia and America hasn’t made it part of the in-crowd will raise eyebrows. Especially while no one likes to mention the elephant – or should that be dragon? – in the room: New Zealand’s relationship with China.The Conversation

Alexander Gillespie, Professor of Law, University of Waikato

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

Australia to build nuclear submarines in a new partnership with the US and UK


original.
AAP/EPA/Oliver Contreras

Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraAustralia will build a fleet of nuclear submarines as part of a new security partnership with the United States and United Kingdom, dubbed AUKUS.

The dramatic move is a response to the growing threat of China and will be seen as provocative by that country.

In an early morning address at Parliament House, part of a three-way virtual appearance with US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia, the US and the UK had “always seen the world through a similar lens”.

“Our world is becoming more complex, especially here in our region, the Indo-Pacific.

“This affects us all. The future of the Indo-Pacific will impact all our futures. To meet these challenges, to help deliver the security and stability our region needs, we must now take our partnership to a new level.”

The submarines will be built in Adelaide, in co-operation with the UK and US.

Morrison stressed “Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability”.

There will be an 18-month long effort by the three countries to develop the best plan to deliver the new capability. In doing this, expertise from the US and the UK will be used.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese indicated Labor’s general support for the submarines and sought a bipartisan mechanism for oversight of the process.

In a statement Morrison, Biden and Johnson said: “Through AUKUS, our governments will strengthen the ability of each to support our security and defence interests, building on our longstanding and ongoing bilateral ties.

“We will promote deeper information and technology sharing. We will foster deeper integration of security and defence-related science, technology, industrial bases, and supply chains. And in particular, we will significantly deepen co-operation on a range of security and defence capabilities.”

The leaders said: “The endeavour we launch today will help sustain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.”

American nuclear-powered submarines visit Australia.

Currently, Australia has a $90 billion contract with the French for conventionally-powered submarines. This has been controversial because of the long lead time and escalating costs. Cancellation costs will run into billions of dollars.

The French government has reacted angrily. It declared the Australian decision to halt the current “Future Submarine Program” was “contrary to the letter and spirit of the co-operation that prevailed between France and Australia, based on a relationship of political trust as well as on the development of a very high-level defence industrial and technological base in Australia”.

In a statement Jean-Yves Le Drian, minister for Europe and foreign affairs, and Florence Parly, minister of the armed forces, said: “The American choice to exclude a European ally and partner such as France from a structuring partnership with Australia, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, whether in terms of our values or in terms of respect for multilateralism based on the rule of law, shows a lack of coherence that France can only note and regret.”

A former French ambassador to the US, Gérard Araud, tweeted: “The world is a jungle. France has just been reminded of this bitter truth by the way the US and the UK have stabbed her in the back in Australia”.

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating criticised the announcement as representing a further loss of Australian sovereignty.

The agreement for Australia “to move to a fleet of US supplied nuclear submarines will amount to a lock-in of Australian military equipment and thereby forces, with those of the United States with only one underlying objective: the ability to act collectively in any military engagement by the United States against China” Keating said.

“This arrangement would witness a further dramatic loss of Australian sovereignty, as material dependency on the United States robbed Australia of any freedom or choice in any engagement Australia may deem appropriate,” he said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said under that under that country’s legislation, the nuclear submarines would not be able to visit there.

Senate crossbencher Rex Patrick, a former submariner, said the decision on nuclear submarines should come under rigorous parliamentary scrutiny.

“I’ve been a strong critic of the French submarine deal. The delays and cost overruns are huge and unacceptable. But we have to be careful we don’t move from one massive procurement disaster into something else that hasn’t been thought through properly.”

Patrick said that “acquiring, operating and maintaining a nuclear submarine fleet without a domestic nuclear power industry is a challenge that must not be underestimated”.

Greens leader Adam Bandt attacked the decision, saying it was “a dangerous move that makes our country less safe by putting floating Chernobyls in the heart of our major cities, increasing the risk of conflict in our region and putting Australia in the firing line”.

He said the government was trying to distract from its failures by preparing for a khaki election.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.

It’s time for Australia to develop its own guided missiles — otherwise, we’ll need to keep asking for the codes


Prime Minister’s Office

Graeme Dunk, Australian National UniversityStep by step, Australia is inching its way towards more autonomy in defence.

On Wednesday, Defence Minister Peter Dutton was reported to have signalled greater access to US missile technology will be a key test of the US-Australia alliance at a closed meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia.

In March Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the defence department would select an industry partner to develop a A$1 billion guided weapons manufacturing capability.

But, more than in earlier times, it’s the details that will matter.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Peter Jennings says a key lesson from the collapse of the US operation in Afghanistan is that its allies can no longer assume it will be just “over the horizon ready to defend our strategic interests”.

It was, he said, “a tough message for Australia, which has become habituated to think that defence spending at a little over 2% of gross domestic product and a defence force about two-thirds the size of a Melbourne Cricket Ground crowd is enough to defend the country”.

Japan seems to be also rethinking its strategy.

Four options: the best is expensive

There are four options for improving self-reliance in guided weapons.

The first is simply to buy more of what we currently have. It isn’t bad as a short-term approach, but we can’t guarantee we will have what we need, when we need it. Weapons can date and we can slip down the queue for replenishment — just think of COVID-19 vaccine supply.

The second option is to assemble in Australia, rather than simply import.




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This is better than the first option, and would create jobs. But jobs are hardly going to be the most pressing issue when the firing starts. And we are unlikely to get all of the intellectual property (the knowledge about how to build and repair) we might need to upgrade when circumstances change.

The third option is to use Australian industry to improve and replace some capabilities of current weapons with locally-developed alternatives.

Targeting software and counter-counter-measure software could be examples.




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Australia’s plan for manufacturing missiles to be accelerated


This option is better than the previous two options, but still relies on us having access to foreign (often US) intellectual property, which might be problematic.

The best option is to design and build our own guided weapons. This would be expensive, and it would require significant time, but it would actually make us self-reliant. We would own the intellectual property and own the codes.

We would be able to upgrade to take account of developments in technology and to account for changes in the adversary. We wouldn’t have to wait in line to be given an upgrade.

We will probably need all four options

This is not to suggest we need to develop every type of guided weapon type we would use. There are some where the integration issues would be profound if not close to impossible (the joint strike fighter is an example).

It isn’t that we need sovereignty in guided weapons, what is that we need smart sovereignty — smart in the sense that we focus our efforts and our money where we can get the most useful sovereignty.

The Holden was the first car Australia made, rather than assembled.
State Library Victoria

In some cases the sensible thing will be to buy and/or fabricate, just as Australia buys foreign cars and in the early days of manufacturing assembled foreign cars.

In others cases it will be to develop additional weapons locally. Each approach will be the best in different circumstances. We will probably need some of each, simultaneously.

But we need to take charge of our own destiny where we can, rather than just rely on a helping hand that may or may not come when we need it, or in the way we will need it.

We certainly can’t go toe-to-toe with our most likely regional adversary on our own. We don’t have anything like the capability.

But what we can do is target the development of local weapons to those that are likely to be of the most use against that adversary. Deployable, mobile, hypersonic anti-access/area denial guided weapons are among those that would help.

Waiting might leave us unable to choose

Irrespective of the option we choose, we will need to test the guided weapons we use domestically. This means developing in parallel a domestic capability for the modelling, simulation and analysis that will be critical to success.

Australian industry has the capability, but time is running short. The pandemic has shown us that the money can be found where the need is critical.

The future might not be kind to us but at the moment we still have time to choose the path to take. Later, that path might be dictated for us.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.

Grattan on Friday: General’s vaccine advance waits on more fuel


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraDespite some questioning about a military man being in charge of the vaccine rollout, when it comes to communicating, Lieutenant General JJ Frewen is a refreshing change from the pollie-speak and fudges we hear all the time.

At a Tuesday news conference, after his virtual meeting with the states and territories, Frewen answered questions directly and briefly.

He was distinctly “forward leaning”, indeed pre-empting the content of the roundtable Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and he were to have with business representatives the following day.

Frewen sounds like a man who knows what he’s doing. Coming days will tell whether that’s the reality. (You can find a touch of scepticism in certain state quarters.)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is naturally inclined to put faith in the military, especially after his Sovereign Borders experience. But bringing in Frewen was also a response to what was becoming a desperate situation. It was a call to Triple Zero. He’s now very impressed with the general and relying on him heavily.

While critics baulk at the “men in uniform” pictures (Frewen flanked by colleagues), a degree of concern is also being expressed from quite another quarter. Some defence sources are wary of the danger of politicising the military.

The Australia Defence Association tweeted this week: “Relying on the ADF to head emergency efforts (not just assist the civil community) risks dragging a necessarily non-partisan institution into #auspol controversy”.

The ADA referenced the 2007 Northern Territory intervention over child sex abuse, when the seconded general heading a multi-departmental operation was targeted in a highly politicised environment.

At the moment, however, Frewen has more immediate worries. The general has landed on the beach, reworked the maps, and is marshalling available forces. But his advance is hampered by the shortage of fit-for-purpose fuel.

As each day goes by, the limited quantities of Pfizer and the absence of any other currently available alternative to AstraZeneca (which is subject to restrictive health advice) is being highlighted more starkly.

The fact this will change later (we are assured) doesn’t help when the here-and-now is urgent, as the Sydney outbreak and the extension of the lockdown there underline.

It’s a time-gap that up until now Australia has not been able to significantly narrow.

We’re hearing about vaccine transfers abroad – for example, Israel is providing doses to South Korea, to be repaid later.

But it is hard for a country like Australia, with relatively few cases, to make a plea. Morrison was asked why we haven’t been able to use our “special relationship” with the US to get some of its surplus doses. Unsurprisingly, others have greater needs or better arrangements.

Announcing on Thursday a liberalising of the COVID disaster payment to assist in the Sydney outbreak, Morrison also said the state would be provided with 300,000 extra vaccine doses next week, equally divided between Pfizer and AstraZeneca. This won’t affect what other states receive (on the per head of population formula), and NSW’s numbers will be smoothed out later.

The federal government has now rustled up additional shots of Pfizer.

On Friday, it was announced the supply of Pfizer had been brought forward, with 4.5 million doses expected to be available in August instead of September.

The supply problem came through strongly when Frydenberg and Frewen spoke after Wednesday’s business meeting.

The roundtable canvassed workplace vaccinations. Frydenberg said there were a lot of offers. Virgin Group CEO Jayne Hrdlicka said, “Big employers have the ability to stand up vaccination programs very quickly and would welcome the opportunity to be able to vaccinate as much of the workforce as quickly as possible”.

According to Treasury sources, when the rollout was being prepared, Treasury put forward the view that employers should be used as a channel, as with the flu vaccine. But up to now, we’ve heard little from the government about such an obvious way to boost rates. And, among other things, that goes back to supply.

If we had more Pfizer, there is no reason why this could not have been happening now. (Except where there’s lockdown and work from home!) But employers can’t be in the thick of the rollout when the supply problem means the younger people in their workforces could not be given the vaccine preferred for them. The workplace sites will be for later in the year.

If there had been more Pfizer, the under 40 cohort could have been brought into the general rollout program much earlier – these people are still waiting, unless their job or health puts them into a special category, or they choose AstraZeneca.

And with adequate Pfizer supplies the PM wouldn’t have needed to encourage younger people to consult their doctor about taking AstraZeneca.

The extension for another week of the Sydney lockdown further removes the special status NSW has claimed – and has been accorded by the federal government – as the gold standard for handling COVID without having to resort to extreme measures. The virus again has proved itself the great leveller.

NSW’s decision would be especially disappointing to Morrison. But there is a tone of greater tolerance towards his home state than he displayed to Victoria, in its recent troubles, when he held out for some days before announcing assistance. (In fairness, the Delta outbreak in Sydney is particularly bad.)

“We’re working very cooperatively and positively together [with NSW] because let me be clear – what is happening in Sydney just doesn’t have implications for Sydney,” he said.

“What is happening in Sydney has very serious implications not only for the health of Sydneysiders but also for the economy of Sydney, but also the economy of NSW and indeed the national economy.”

At the moment, one in three eligible people in Australia has had a first vaccine dose, and one in ten has received both doses.

The government has been foreshadowing for a while that by year’s end, all eligible Australians will have had the opportunity of a first jab. On Thursday, Morrison pointedly said this was the government’s intention “based on the advice of Lieutenant General John Frewen that that will be possible”.

That’s assuming “the supply lines hold”.

The PM said this would mean the vaccination program would be only two months behind the schedule the government had when it talked about an October deadline.

No pressure, JJ.

This article has been updated to take into account the prime minister’s Friday announcement on bringing forward Pfizer dosesThe Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Australia is building a billion-dollar arms export industry. This is how weapons can fall in the wrong hands


Megan Price, The University of QueenslandSince 2018, Australia has been seeking to become a top ten global defence exporter.

Its main exports are products and components that fit into broader global supply chains for weapons and weapons systems. For example, the government boasts there isn’t a single F-35 fighter jet production operation that doesn’t feature Australian-made components.

The government sees further export potential for products and components to be used in armoured vehicles, advanced radar systems, and patrol boats, as well.

While Australia hasn’t made much headway on its export ranking, it has enjoyed some impressive sales success. In the 2017-18 financial year, the estimated value of approved export permits was A$1.5 billion. By 2019-20, it had grown to nearly $5.5 billion.

Australia’s export goals are connected to a broader effort to resuscitate domestic manufacturing.

Considerable government funding is involved in this effort, including $1 billion recently allocated to the Sovereign Guided Weapons Enterprise for building missiles.

Where do Australian arms go?

Australia doesn’t provide data on which countries it exports arms to. It only maps the regions, and unhelpfully, it lumps the Middle East and Asia together.

We do know successive defence ministers have courted markets in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Heavily redacted documents obtained by the Guardian under a Freedom of Information request also indicate that in 2018-19, Australia issued 45 arms export permits to the UAE and 23 to Saudi Arabia.

Another 14 permits were approved for the countries from 2019-20.

These developments are significant, not least because the UAE and Saudis have both been embroiled in the Yemeni civil war for years, at times conducting their own indiscriminate air strikes.

The UN secretary-general anticipates 16 million Yemenis will go hungry this year because of the conflict, while 50,000 Yemenis are already starving to death.

Earlier this year, the Biden administration announced a freeze on “offensive” arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, citing the toll on civilians in the Yemeni war. Italy followed suit. Germany, too, halted weapons exports to the Saudis after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Advocacy groups in Australia have attempted to seize on this glimmer of momentum by calling for Australia to do the same.

When weapons end up in the wrong hands

The Australian government still claims its arms export industry operates under strict regulations:

In keeping with Australia’s national interests and international obligations, Defence facilitates the responsible export of military and dual-use goods and technologies from Australia.

Such claims are hardly new. If anything, they’re part of a long-standing Western tradition.

In the 1960s, the UN Security Council debated the merits of an arms embargo on South Africa. At the time, the French and British maintained their weapons sales were for “defensive purposes” and not “internal use”. South Africa built a terrifying internal security apparatus, making a mockery of the distinction.

The historical record shows that arms exports often show up precisely where they shouldn’t, causing untold civilian suffering. At times, they are even wielded against the immediate interests of the countries in which they were produced.

Britain’s many mistakes

Here, the British experience is illustrative (although we just as easily tell this story about any purported liberal democracy in the arms export business).

When Tony Blair’s Labour government came to office in 1997, it promised an “ethical” foreign policy. As part of this, Labour would never allow the sale of arms to regimes that might use them for internal repression. Or so they said.

The previous government had approved export licenses for the sale of Hawk jets to Indonesia’s Suharto regime. While Labour could have cancelled these licences, it didn’t do so until it was too late. A series of unedifying spectacles followed.

Hawk jets in Indonesia.
Hawk fighter jets fly in formation during an Indonesian military celebration.
SUZANNE PLUNKETT/AP

In 1999, Britain confirmed Indonesia had flown Hawk jets over Timor-Leste to intimidate local residents before the region’s independence referendum. Hawk jets were then used in 2003 to bomb Aceh province during a particularly brutal internal military campaign. British Scorpion tanks were also used.

These were by no means isolated incidents. In 2009, Britain conceded it was possible its weapons had been used in the Sri Lankan civil war in a manner contravening their export licences.

That same year, the foreign secretary also confirmed Israel had used British-made equipment to bombard Gaza.

Like Australia, Britain is currently exporting weapons to Saudi Arabia, though a court challenge is being brought to try to stop it. From 2013-17, it was the country’s second-biggest supplier, after the US.

While Britain recently announced it will halve its aid budget to Yemen, it will not stop supplying the Saudis with arms.

Today’s friend is tomorrow’s enemy

Arming foreign governments does not just pose an immediate risk to civilians. In a phenomenon known as “blowback”, it can undermine the interests of exporters.

In 2004, for example, the European Union lifted arms sanctions on Libya. And from 2005–09, EU member states cemented arms deals with the oil giant.

Muammar Gaddafi’s regime stored its new purchases in warehouses. Then, in 2011, Libya erupted into civil war and NATO enacted a “no-fly zone”. Many of the warehouses were looted and the weapons spilled into the hands of both government and rebel forces. This effectively turbo-charged a conflict that NATO was responsible for controlling.

A 2013 UN report said looted weapons had been smuggled to as many as 12 other countries in the region. They’ve fallen into the hands of foreign governments, separatists, warlords, and Islamic extremists. This is how arms deals can come back to bite exporters.

The arms industry has an array of potential drawbacks. There are questions about the economic efficiency of investing in defence at the expense of other sectors, and arms procurement is highly susceptible to corruption.

Even if our intentions are good and we behave transparently, we still cannot predict the future. The British Parliamentary Committee on Export Controls articulated this problem over a decade ago when discussing the Sri Lankan war:

The issue of Sri Lanka illustrates the difficulties faced by the government, and by those who, like us, scrutinise the licensing decisions made by government, in assessing how exports of arms might be used by the destination country at a future date, particularly if [the] political situation in the country at the time of the exports appears stable.

That should give us pause for thought.The Conversation

Megan Price, Sessional Lecturer, The University of Queensland

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

View from The Hill: Dutton humiliates defence force chief Angus Campbell over citation


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraPeter Dutton has begun his tenure as defence minister by delivering a very public slap to his most senior military adviser, chief of the Australian Defence Force Angus Campbell.

Dutton’s overriding of Campbell’s initial command decision to revoke a meritorious unit citation that had been awarded to some 3,000 special forces soldiers who served in Afghanistan is a humiliation to the general who is supposedly in command of the military.

The minister’s claim that he has full faith in Campbell does not alter this point.

On an issue that goes to the core of military professionalism, ethics and discipline, the government has not trusted Campbell’s judgment.

The opposition is no better – it has supported Dutton’s decision.

We don’t know how Campbell is taking it, but Dutton says he’s “pragmatic”. In such circumstances, some military leaders would be considering their position.

The salt has been rubbed in by Dutton seeking to highlight the override, with a leaked story in The Australian and media interviews.

Dutton’s argument that “the decision [Campbell] made in the first instance is perfectly reasonable. But my judgment is that we look at the circumstances now,” doesn’t pass (as the government might say) the pub test.

Of course the government overrule effectively came months ago, after the release of the Brereton report on allegations of misconduct by Australian special forces in Afghanistan, which said the citation should be revoked.

The war crimes inquiry said there was “credible information” of 23 incidents in which one or more non-combatants or prisoners of war “were unlawfully killed by or at the direction of members of the Special Operations Task Group”. It recommended the ADF chief refer 36 matters to the Australian Federal Police for criminal investigation, involving 19 individuals.

Faced with pressure from veterans and from some within the special forces, Scott Morrison was quick to indicate he opposed the proposal to revoke the citation, and Campbell began a tactical retreat.

Former defence minister Linda Reynolds smoothed the waters to give time for consideration. But it was always clear what was going to happen.

A less assertive minister, however, might have found a form of announcement to allow Campbell to have saved a little more face (assuming he wished to).

As he grasps the reins of a portfolio he has long coveted, Dutton is sending the message that (unlike his predecessor) he wants be an activist minister who is in the public eye.

In considering how the citation award has been handled, it is important to understand exactly what it is.

The Brereton inquiry made separate recommendations about the Meritorious Unit Citation which went to the Special Operations Task Group, and individual awards, and it explained the reasons for viewing them differently.

“Although many members of the Special Operations Task Group demonstrated great courage and commitment and although it had considerable achievements, what is now known must disentitle the unit as a whole to eligibility for recognition for sustained outstanding service.

“It has to be said that what this Report discloses is disgraceful and a profound betrayal of the Australian Defence Force’s professional standards and expectations. It is not meritorious.

“The inquiry has recommended the revocation of the award of the Meritorious Unit Citation, as an effective demonstration of the collective responsibility and accountability of the Special Operations Group as a whole for those events.

“In contrast, the cancellation of an individual award such as a distinguished service award impacts on the status and reputation of the individual concerned, could not be undertaken on a broad-brush collective basis, and would require procedural fairness.”

Brereton is making a very reasonable distinction between collective and individual responsibility, and the need to send a broad signal about, and from, the collective.

In rejecting Campbell’s judgment, Dutton and the government have rebuffed the official inquiry, led by a distinguished and experienced judge – a bad look of the political taking precedence over the legal.

One has to wonder just how much will finally be delivered as a result of the Brereton investigation. The process to get prosecutions for alleged crimes is underway but by its nature it will be incredibly complex and difficult.

Which, one could argue, made it even more important to carry through the symbolic gesture of removing the citation.

Meanwhile on another front, Morrison on Monday announced a royal commission into past suicides in the defence forces and among veterans.

This wasn’t the government’s preference. Its plan was for an ongoing commissioner on the issue, but that did not satisfy many families and veterans, and the government couldn’t muster the parliamentary numbers.

Now both processes will be undertaken, the government says.

The outcome on these very different issues – the citation and the royal commission – reflect the political power of veterans.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.

An Australian ‘space command’ could be a force for good — or a cause for war


iss e orig.
NASA

Cassandra Steer, Australian National UniversityAs the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) celebrated 100 years with a spectacular and well-attended flyover in Canberra yesterday, many eyes were lifted to the skies. But RAAF’s ambitions go even higher, as its motto “through adversity, to the stars” hints. The Chief of Air Force, Air Marshall Mel Hupfeld, announced the intention to create a new “space command”.

Having a dedicated space command will bring Australia into line with Canada, India, France and Japan, all of which recently created similar organisations within their armed forces. Unlike the US Space Force, which is a separate branch of the military in addition to the army, navy and air force, Australia’s space command will oversee space activities across the Australian Defence Force.

Creating a space command is a smart move — but we must be careful to ensure it doesn’t add fuel to a cycle of military escalation in space that has already begun.




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


Space technology is vital but vulnerable

We depend on satellites for communications, navigation, banking and trade, weather and climate tracking, search and rescue, bushfire tracking, and more. A conflict in space would be catastrophic for us all.

There is a risk of “space war” because these technologies are also integral to military operations, both in peacetime and during conflict. If you want to take out your enemy’s eyes and ears, you target their satellites — but not with guns, bombs or lasers.

There are many ways in which so-called “counterspace technologies” might threaten those satellites. This might include cyber attacks, dazzling a satellite with low-powered lasers so that it can’t observe Earth, or jamming a signal so a satellite can’t send data to Earth.

Operating in space

The creation of US Space Force under the Trump administration in 2019 raised many eyebrows, and even led to a parody sitcom on Netflix. But while the comedy series had soldiers waging a war with China on the Moon using wrenches, US Space Force has a serious mandate, including the work that had been done for decades by its predecessor, US Space Command.

While the TV version ended in farce in Space Force, the real thing has a serious job.
Netflix

Much of that work involves tracking satellites and the estimated 128 million pieces of debris orbiting the Earth, to help avoid collisions that could be fatal to any number of services on which we rely. It also involves protecting US and allied space systems from counterspace threats.

The announcement that Australia will have its own space command is a welcome one in this sense. All three of our armed forces depend on space-based technologies, and centralised coordination is sensible.




Read more:
A guide to ensure everyone plays by the same military rules in space: the Woomera Manual


We also intend to increase our sovereign space capabilities, as outlined in the 2020 Strategic Defence Update, with A$7 billion dedicated to new space systems, mostly communications satellites. We need to be able to defend those satellites, and Defence needs to have centralised command and control of all government space operations. Australia also needs to be able to coordinate use of, access to, and protection of space with our allies.

Avoiding escalation

We should be extremely wary of designating space a “warfighting domain”. The US is the only country to adopt this nomenclature. It sends a deliberate signal to rivals that any point of conflict can now also be taken into space, or even begin in space.

The US Department of Defense asserts it is only responding to the actions of China and Russia, which have “weaponised space and turned it into a warfighting domain”. For China and Russia, of course, this statement and the creation of US Space Force justify ramping up their own space military programs. An escalating cycle with a potential for conflict in space is underway.

If Australia were to adopt the position that space is a warfighting domain, the most important country we would be sending a signal to would be China. We are far from having sufficient space capabilities to pick or win a fight with China in space. Adopting such a position could also be seen as a breach of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which states that space shall be used for “exclusively peaceful purposes”.

Competition is counterproductive

Following the lead of our other allies offers a better path. The NATO countries refused to describe space as a warfighting domain when they debated it at their space summit in 2019. They opted instead to designate space an “operational domain”.

The US Space Force is underpinned by a doctrine of “space superiority”, which is not something to which Australia can — or should — aspire. In fact, a study commissioned by the US Department of Defense itself concludes dominance in space is not crucial to US or allied defence.




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


This aligns with the arguments made by a range of global experts in a recent publication I co-edited, War and Peace in Outer Space. Seeking to dominate space militarily will likely lead to a counterproductive escalating cycle of competition. If we want to protect our space-based assets and those of our allies, we need to reduce the risk of an arms race, rather than incite one.

Australia should focus on its ability to become an effective diplomatic space power. A new centralised space command can be at the centre of this effort.The Conversation

Cassandra Steer, Senior Lecturer, ANU College of Law; Mission Specialist, ANU Institute for Space, Australian National University

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

The Anzac legend has blinded Australia to its war atrocities. It’s time for a reckoning



Australian soldiers in the trenches at Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey in 1915.
State Library of Victoria/Wikimedia Commons

Martin Crotty, The University of Queensland and Carolyn Holbrook, Deakin University

For years, Australians have faced a steady stream of investigative media reports about atrocities allegedly committed by the country’s most elite soldiers in Afghanistan.

Yet, nothing could have prepared the nation for the breathtaking contents of the landmark report by Major General Paul Brereton into the actions of special forces, released last month after a four-year investigation. The reaction across Australia was one of horror and disbelief.

The inquiry found credible evidence to support allegations that 39 Afghan civilians were illegally killed by Australian soldiers, some having weapons planted on them to make them appear to have been combatants.




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


Prisoners were shot for reasons as obtuse as saving the need for a second helicopter trip. Others were allegedly killed in a practice known as “blooding”, in which new soldiers were encouraged to achieve their first “kill”. In one particularly appalling incident, special forces allegedly slit the throats of two 14-year-old boys and dumped their bodies in a river.

For most Australians, this is more than just rogue soldiers being found out for despicable behaviour. The depth of revulsion felt by many reflects the special place the country reserves for its armed forces, who have come to personify all that is best about Australia.

Chief of Defence Force Angus Campbell has been under pressure from some politicians to resign.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Where the Anzac legend originated

Military history sits at the heart of the Australian national identity — most visibly through the Anzac legend.

The word “Anzac” is an acronym for “Australian and New Zealand Army Corps”. It was coined during the early phases of the first world war, when Australians and New Zealanders were part of an allied force that landed at Gallipoli in modern-day Turkey in April 1915.

The invasion, devised by Britain’s first lord of the admiralty, Winston Churchill, was unsuccessful in its goal of reaching Constantinople and knocking the Ottoman Empire out of the war.

British, Australian and New Zealander soldiers constructing bombs at Gallipoli in 1915.
Archives New Zealand/Wikimedia Commons

But the young Australian nation, federated in 1901, took from the failed campaign a mythology of national birth.

Australia had been created during an age of elevated propaganda about empire, monarchy and the glory of battle. War was held to be the truest test of the character of men and nations.

In this era of “new imperialism”, the peaceful union of Australia’s six British colonies carried a taint of illegitimacy because no blood had been spilled (the frontier wars with Aboriginal peoples did not count). The British journalist Alfred Buchanan wrote in 1907 that he

pitied the little Australian […] looking to nourish the flame of patriotic sentiment, [for …] the altar has not been stained with crimson as every rallying centre of a nation should be.

So, by the first world war, it was believed that a good showing in battle would expunge the convict stain and prove Australians worthy members of the British empire.

This is why the date of the Gallipoli invasion, April 25, quickly became Australia’s most sacred national day. The young nation was drenched by a tide of khaki nationalism that has ebbed and flowed ever since.

War memorials and monuments were raised in towns and cities around the country, where citizens still gather each Anzac Day to engage in the rituals of what the late historian Ken Inglis called Australia’s “civil religion”.

The first Anzac Day parade in Sydney on April 25, 1916.
Century of Pictures, Penguin Books/Wikimedia Commons

How the Anzacs continue to be revered

Beginning in the 1990s, Australian politicians have also consciously and cleverly linked this nostalgia-tinted history to the work of the modern and highly professionalised Australian Defence Force.

When the honour of Australia’s revered soldiers is questioned, so too is the national self-image.

For example, a 2011 report into the culture and personal conduct of members of the Defence Force, prompted by accusations of sexual harassment and other indiscretions, noted the Anzac legend provided an exemplar for the current military.




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


Similarly, in his 2015 dawn service speech on the centenary of the Gallipoli landings, then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott lauded the Anzacs for their qualities of compassion, perseverance and mateship.

In reverential tones, Abbott called them the “founding heroes of modern Australia”, said they set an example for modern day Australians to follow:

Yes, they are us; and when we strive enough for the right things, we can be more like them.

Poignantly, Ben Roberts-Smith, Australia’s most decorated contemporary soldier and among the men accused of war atrocities in Afghanistan, has also drawn inspiration from the Anzac legend.

Roberts-Smith has said that Gallipoli is “a big part of who we are as Aussies”, and reflected on his boyhood fascination with the Anzacs:

While other boys had posters of sporting heroes, I had posters of soldiers.

A history of misconduct in war

But the idealisation of this Anzac history has always required Australians turn a blind eye to uncomfortable truths.

Australian soldiers in the first world war killed prisoners, deserted in record numbers, caught venereal disease at phenomenal rates and outperformed all other Western Front forces in causing trouble.

In the second world war, Australians were often reluctant to take Japanese prisoners, choosing to illegally bayonet or shoot them instead. And Australian soldiers are known to have committed atrocities alongside their American counterparts in Vietnam, including “bloodings” and “throwdowns” (planting weapons on civilians after they were killed).




Read more:
How Anzac Day came to occupy a sacred place in Australians’ hearts


In recent years, we have become increasingly reluctant to see our Anzacs as killers, even when such killing is legitimate on military grounds.

As represented most famously in Peter Weir’s 1981 film, Gallipoli, the Anzac legend has become less about the combat ability of Australian soldiers and more about their suffering. It is war commemoration stripped down and refitted for the age of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Anzacs that our nation so often lauds are fictional creations, shorn of the malevolence and downright murderous behaviour they frequently exhibited.

The alleged SAS atrocities do not fit this kinder, gentler version of the legend. They upend the way Australians like to imagine their armed forces, and by implication, themselves.

The final scene in the 1981 film Gallipoli, starring Mel Gibson.

Tethering war to national self-image

We see two possibilities for how the current crisis will play out. The first is the alleged war crimes will slowly be forgotten, just as previous atrocities have been.

There are already signs this is happening. Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week said he remained “incredibly proud” of the ADF and emphasised that the alleged crimes were committed by “a small number in a very big defence force”. He maintained the reputation of the broader defence force would be unaffected.

Soldiers march during the Anzac Day parade in Brisbane in 2019.
Glenn Hunt/AAP

The other possibility is Australia will adopt a more realistic attitude towards its soldiers and the conflicts they fight in.

These conflicts are complex, and rarely conducted without some descent into the moral abyss. Some of our soldiers are not good people, and those that are good are capable of lapses. War is an ugly business, and we pay a price for tethering it so tightly to our national self-image.

As historians of Australia’s war experiences, we hope and wish for a national reckoning about our record of war atrocities. But as historians of Anzac, we anticipate that the great mythological behemoth will barely sway from its course in the face of these allegations.The Conversation

Martin Crotty, Associate Professor in Australian History, The University of Queensland and Carolyn Holbrook, ARC DECRA Fellow at Deakin University, Deakin University

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

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.




Read more:
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.




Read more:
Chinese reveal their journalists in Australia were questioned in foreign interference investigation


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”.




Read more:
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.




Read more:
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.




Read more:
Morrison’s foreign relations bill should not pass parliament. Here’s why


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.