We know how to cut off the financial valve to Myanmar’s military. The world just needs the resolve to act


Jonathan Liljeblad, Australian National UniversitySince the coup in Myanmar on February 1, the international community has struggled to agree on coherent action against the military (also known as the Tatmadaw).

Tough action by the UN Security Council has been stymied by China, Russia, India and Vietnam, who see the Myanmar crisis as an internal affair.

Outside the UN, a strong, coordinated response by Myanmar’s neighbours in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has also been lacking due to their reluctance to interfere in each other’s affairs. Thai political expert Thitinan Pongsudhirak called it an “existential crisis” for the bloc.




Read more:
As killings, beatings and disappearances escalate, what’s the end game in Myanmar?


This reluctance, which has now cost the lives of over 500 civilians, rules out the use of military force to stop the violence, peacekeeping operations or even a humanitarian intervention.

It has left the international community with one remaining option for a coordinated response that could change the military’s behaviour: the imposition of economic sanctions. But even this action has been subject to much debate.

Follow the money

General sanctions that try to change the behaviour of authoritarian regimes by damaging their economies have proven problematic in the past. Many leaders have invariably found ways around the sanctions, meaning civilians have disproportionately borne the costs of isolation.

In contrast, targeted sanctions against the specific financial interests that sustain authoritarian regimes have been more effective. These can impose pressure on regimes without affecting the broader population.




Read more:
Ethical minefields: the dirty business of doing deals with Myanmar’s military


This is where the international community has the greatest potential to punish the Tatmadaw.

Since the US and other countries pursued more general sanctions on Myanmar in the 1990s and 2000s — with mixed results — the international community has gained a greater understanding of the Tatmadaw’s transnational revenue streams.

In particular, in 2019, the UN Fact-Finding Mission (UNFFM) on Myanmar released a report detailing the diverse Tatmadaw-linked enterprises that funnel revenue from foreign business transactions to the military’s leaders and units.

More recently, this list of potential targets has been expanded by non-government organisations and investigative journalists.

Researchers have also outlined the Tatmadaw’s dealings in illegal trade in drugs, gemstones, timber, wildlife and human trafficking.

The extent of information on the Tatmadaw’s financial flows shows just how vulnerable the military’s leaders are to international pressure.

Tracking the military’s legal and illegal business dealings makes it possible to identify its business partners in other countries. Governments in those countries can then take legal action against these business partners and shut off the flow of money keeping the junta afloat.

To some degree, this is starting to happen with Myanmar. The US and UK recently decided, for instance, to freeze assets and halt corporate trading with two Tatmadaw conglomerates — Myanmar Economic Corporation and Myanma Economic Holdings Limited. Both of these oversee a range of holdings in businesses that divert revenues directly to the Tatmadaw.

Myanmar’s trading partners can do more

This is only a starting point, though. To tighten the pressure on the junta, targeted sanctions need to be imposed against the full suite of entities identified by the UNFFM. These include groups like Justice for Myanmar and journalists.

The sanctions need to be accompanied by broader investigations into the Tatmadaw’s revenues from illicit trade. To counter this, Human Rights Watch has urged governments to enforce anti-money laundering and anti-corruption measures, including the freezing of assets.

Singapore’s central bank has reportedly told financial institutions to be on the look-out for suspicious transactions or money flows between the city-state and Myanmar. Singapore is the largest foreign investor in the country.

Moreover, for maximum impact, targeted sanctions need to be imposed not just by the West, but by Myanmar’s largest trading partners in the region. This includes Singapore, along with China, India, Indonesia, Japan and Thailand.

Business leaders in these countries have historically had the closest ties with Myanmar’s military and business elites. But their participation in a multi-national targeted sanctions strategy is not out of the question. For one, this would not require direct intervention within Myanmar, something they are loath to do. Imposing targeted sanctions would merely entail enforcing their domestic laws regarding appropriate business practices.




Read more:
Resistance to military regime in Myanmar mounts as nurses, bankers join protests – despite bloody crackdown


International action is becoming more urgent. Beyond the concerns about the killings of unarmed civilians, there is a larger issue of the violence extending beyond Myanmar’s borders. There are growing fears the crisis could turn Myanmar into a failed state, driving refugee flows capable of destabilising the entire region.

In short, this is no longer an “internal” matter for Myanmar — it is becoming a transnational problem that will affect regional peace and security. The tools are there to stop the financial flows to the Tatmadaw and curtail their operations. It is critical to act before the Myanmar crisis grows into an international disaster.The Conversation

Jonathan Liljeblad, Senior Lecturer, Australian National University

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

Myanmar’s military reverts to its old strong-arm behaviour — and the country takes a major step backwards


Adam Simpson, University of South Australia and Nicholas Farrelly, University of Tasmania

Just before the newly elected members of Myanmar’s parliament were due to be sworn in today, the military detained the country’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi; the president, Win Myint; and other key figures from the elected ruling party, the National League for Democracy.

The military later announced it had taken control of the country for 12 months and declared a state of emergency. This is a coup d’etat, whether the military calls it that or not.

A disputed election and claims of fraud

In November, the NLD and Suu Kyi won a landslide victory in national elections, with the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) faring poorly in its key strongholds.

Humiliated by the result, the USDP alleged the election was subject to widespread fraud. However, international observers, including the Carter Center, the Asian Network for Free Elections and the European Union’s Election Observation Mission, all declared the elections a success. The EU’s preliminary statement noted that 95% of observers had rated the process “good” or “very good”.




Read more:
Aung San Suu Kyi wins big in Myanmar’s elections, but will it bring peace — or restore her reputation abroad?


Reputable local organisations, such as the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections (PACE), agreed. These groups issued a joint statement on January 21 saying

the results of the elections were credible and reflected the will of the majority voters.

Yet, taking a page out of former US President Donald Trump’s book, the USDP pressed its claims of fraud despite the absence of any substantial evidence — a move designed to undermine the legitimacy of the elections.

Supporters of the Myanmar military protest the election results in Yangon last weekend.
Thein Zaw/AP

The military did not initially back the USDP’s claims, but it has gradually begun to provide the party with more support, with the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, General Min Aung Hlaing, refusing to rule out a coup last week.

The following day, the country’s election authorities broke weeks of silence and firmly rejected the USDP’s claims of widespread fraud — setting the stage for what Myanmar historian Thant Myint-U called

[Myanmar’s] most acute constitutional crisis since the abolition of the old junta in 2010.

Tensions have been running high ahead of this week’s opening of Myanmar’s parliament, with roadblocks set up in the capital.
Aung Shine Oo/AP

The civilian-military power-sharing arrangement

It is difficult to see how the military will benefit from today’s actions, since the power-sharing arrangement it had struck with the NLD under the 2008 constitution had already allowed it to expand its influence and economic interests in the country.

The military had previously ruled Myanmar for half a century after General Ne Win launched a coup in 1962. A so-called internal “self-coup” in 1988 brought a new batch of military generals to power. That junta, led by Senior General Than Shwe, allowed elections in 1990 that were won in a landslide by Suu Kyi’s party. The military leaders, however, refused to acknowledge the results.

In 2008, a new constitution was drawn up by the junta which reserved 25% of the national parliament seats for the military and allowed it to appoint the ministers of defence, border affairs and home affairs, as well as a vice president. Elections in 2010 were boycotted by the NLD, but the party won a resounding victory in the next elections in 2015.




Read more:
Ethical minefields: the dirty business of doing deals with Myanmar’s military


Since early 2016, Suu Kyi has been de facto leader of Myanmar, even though there is still no civilian oversight of the military. Until this past week, the relationship between civilian and military authorities was tense at times, but overall largely cordial. It was based on a mutual recognition of overlapping interests in key areas of national policy.

Indeed, this power-sharing arrangement has been extremely comfortable for the military, as it has had full autonomy over security matters and maintained lucrative economic interests.

The partnership allowed the military’s “clearance operations” in Rakhine State in 2017 that resulted in the exodus of 740,000 mostly Muslim Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh.

In the wake of that pogrom, Suu Kyi vigorously defended both the country and its military at the International Court of Justice. Myanmar’s global reputation — and Suu Kyi’s once-esteemed personal standing — suffered deeply and never recovered.

Nonetheless, there was one key point of contention between the NLD and military: the constitutional prohibitions that made it impossible for Suu Kyi to officially take the presidency. Some NLD figures have also voiced deep concerns about the permanent role claimed by the armed forces as an arbiter of all legal and constitutional matters in the country.

A backwards step for Myanmar

Regardless of how events unfold this week and beyond, Myanmar’s fragile democracy has been severely undermined by the military’s actions.

The NLD government has certainly had its shortcomings, but a military coup is a significant backwards step for Myanmar — and is bad news for democracy in the region.

It’s difficult to see this action as anything other than a way for General Min Aung Hlaing to retain his prominent position in national politics, given he is mandated to retire this year when he turns 65. With the poor electoral performance of the USDP, there are no other conceivable political routes to power, such as through the presidency.

A coup will be counterproductive for the military in many ways. Governments around the world will likely now apply or extend sanctions on members of the military. Indeed, the US has released a statement saying it would “take action” against those responsible. Foreign investment in the country — except perhaps from China — is also likely to plummet.

As Myanmar’s people have already enjoyed a decade of increased political freedoms, they are also likely to be uncooperative subjects as military rule is re-imposed.

The 2020 general election demonstrated, once again, the distaste in Myanmar for the political role of the armed forces and the enduring popularity of Suu Kyi. Her detention undermines the fragile coalition that was steering Myanmar through a perilous period, and could prove a messy end to the profitable détente between civilian and military forces.The Conversation

Adam Simpson, Senior Lecturer, University of South Australia and Nicholas Farrelly, Professor and Head of Social Sciences, University of Tasmania

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

Ethical minefields: the dirty business of doing deals with Myanmar’s military



Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP

Htwe Htwe Thein, Curtin University

Myanmar’s transition from five decades of military rule is a work in progress.

Despite the junta’s formal dissolution in 2010, the release of political prisoners including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and democratic reforms allowing National League Democracy to win government in 2015, the military (officially known as the Tatmadaw) retains huge political and economic power.

A quarter of parliamentary seats are reserved for military appointees. The Tatmadaw also controls several major commercial conglomerates with disproportionate economic influence, having prospered through years of cronyism and corruption.

The severe international sanctions imposed on Myanmar during junta rule have been lifted. However, United Nations human rights advocates have warned against doing business with the Tatmadaw due to its human rights atrocities.

Several reports in the past month suggest foreign companies are failing to take that direction seriously.

Two British banks, HSBC and Standard Chartered, have reportedly lent US$60 million to a Vietnamese company building a mobile network in Myanmar. The Tatmadaw-controlled Myanmar Economic Corporation owns 28% of the network, known as Mytel. An Israeli technology company, Gilat Satellite Networks, has also reportedly been doing business with Mytel.

The Australian government has also been indirectly implicated. Its Future Fund has invested A$3.2 million (about US$2.5 million) in a subsidiary of Indian multinational Adani, which is doing business with the Myanmar Economic Corporation.

The subsidiary,
Adani Ports and Special Economic Zones, is funding the rail link to connect Adani’s controversial Carmichael coal mine in Queensland to a port on the Great Barrier Reef. It is also building a container port near Yangon on land owned by the Myanmar Economic Corporation.




Read more:
Myanmar: weak leadership is prompting grassroots activists to make a difference


War crimes and other atrocities

The United Nations’ call to avoid doing business with the Tatmadaw stems from its 2016 operations against the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, the separatist Islamist insurgency based in the western state of Rakhine.

Rahkine is about one-third Muslim, mostly ethnic Rohingya, a group with its own distinctive culture and language.

The red dots show villages destroyed in Rakhine during October and November 2017.
Human Rights Watch, CC BY-ND

The crackdown quickly deteriorated into a human rights crisis. About 350 Rohingya villages were destroyed, according to Human Rights Watch. Hundreds of thousands fled to Bangladesh. (Hundred of thousands were already living in refugee camps due to past persecution.)

In March 2017 the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed an independent fact-finding mission to investigate allegations of atrocities. The mission included former Australian Human Rights Commissioner Chris Sidoti, former Indonesian prosecutor general Marzuki Darusman and Sri Lankan human rights advocate Radhika Coomaraswamy.

They published their first full report in September 2018. Detailing the killing of thousands of Rohingya civilians, forced disappearances and mass gang rapes, it called for the Tatmadaw commander-in-chief, Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, and five other commanders to be tried for genocide.




Read more:
Explainer: why the UN has found Myanmar’s military committed genocide against the Rohingya


Rohingya children wait for food to be distributed by Turkish aid workers at the Thaingkhali refugee camp in Bangladesh in October 2017.
Rohingya children wait for food to be distributed by Turkish aid workers at the Thaingkhali refugee camp in Bangladesh in October 2017.
Dar Yasin/AP

Call to sever economic ties

In September 2019 the mission published a report on the Tatmadaw’s economic interests. It recommended foreign businesses sever ties and cease all business dealings with Tatmadaw-controlled entities.

The report’s main focus was Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and another conglomerate, Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd (MEHL). These two corporations have profited from near-monopoly control over many activities and industries under the junta. They have amassed huge land holdings and businesses in manufacturing, construction, real estate, industrial zones, finance and insurance, telecommunications and mining.

They became public companies in late 2016, but their profits still mostly flow to the military.

The report names foreign companies in commercial partnerships with them, including Adani, Kirin Holdings (Japan), Posco Steel (South Korea), Infosys (India) and Universal Apparel (Hong Kong).

The report also recommended governments and institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) take action to economically isolate the Myanmar military.

Ethical responsibilities

It is important to note the UN report did not call for general disinvestment from Myanmar. It encouraged businesses to enter, invest and contribute to much-needed economic development – but without associating with the military.

The question of isolation versus engagement has been a longstanding one for Myanmar. Until 2011 the United States, the European Union and countries including Australia imposed broad trade and diplomatic sanctions.

However, foreign companies often found a way to do business in Myanmar through various low-profile strategies. Companies in neighbouring countries in particular largely operated on a “business as usual” basis.




Read more:
Engaging in Myanmar: whose interest are we serving?


Doing business in Myanmar without doing business with Tatmadaw interests is no easy task. Access to land and property is especially thorny, given so much is owned by crony companies.

Adani, for example, has defended its port development as contributing to Myanmar’s economic development, stating:

While some nations, including Australia, have arms embargoes and travel restrictions on key members of the military in place, this does not preclude investment in the nation or business dealings with corporations such as MEC.

It notes its port investments in Myanmar are “held through Singapore-based entities and follow the strict regulations of the Singapore government”.

But doing business with the military conglomerates is less necessary than in the past. Creating separate subsidiaries does not shield investors from their ethical responsibilities to not help line the pockets of those responsible for genocide.




Read more:
Australia must do more to ensure Myanmar is preventing genocide against the Rohingya


Whether avoidable or necessary, when high-profile international businesses choose to enter into such deals they will certainly continue to be observed and criticised for making these choices.The Conversation

Htwe Htwe Thein, Associate professor, Curtin 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.




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


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.




Read more:
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.




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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Know the enemy and know yourself’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He added,

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

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

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

In the war against coronavirus, we need the military to play a much bigger role



Danny Casey/AAP

Alexey D Muraviev, Curtin University

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s declaration of “war” against the COVID-19 pandemic requires a mobilisation of all available resources to the front-lines of the response – and this includes a bigger role for our armed forces.

So far, the most visible force on our streets has been the police. In NSW, the police are now patrolling supermarkets to enforce civilised behaviour and order among panic buyers. A special police task force has also been set up in Victoria to enforce social distancing practices in public places.




Read more:
In the wake of bushfires and coronavirus, it’s time we talked about human security


The military can also be a highly valuable asset in a national emergency, yet governments usually only deploy armed forces when a situation turns critical, such as this summer’s bushfires.

We have clearly reached such a critical point in the coronavirus crisis. Desperate times call for a more coordinated and strategic response and much greater involvement of the Australian Defence Force.

Responding to unconventional threats

Modern military power is designed to respond to a comprehensive suite of conventional, asymmetric or unconventional threats. The latter includes chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons, often referred to as CBRN.

Defence has a limited, but well-equipped, capability to respond to CBRN threats. The ADF has a specialised counter-CBRN unit, the Special Operations Engineer Regiment (SOER), which has been trained to respond to biological and bacteriological threats and operate in contaminated environments.




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


The Defence Science and Technology (DST) Group conducts specialised research and development to prevent and defend against CBRN attacks, including disease modelling.

In simple terms, the ADF can offer specialist epidemiological detection and decontamination capabilities. This includes the type of heavy equipment (such as CBRN-proof armoured personnel carriers) and protective gear that could be useful if the pandemic worsens.

This is in addition to a wide range of other functions the ADF can offer, from trained medics to transport logistics to policing functions.

The diggers move in

The ADF has been involved in the nation’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak from the early stages. For instance, the military offered its ground defence facilities, RAAF Base Learmonth and RAAF Base Darwin, to assist with the transfer of Australian nationals to quarantine stations on Christmas Island and Howard Springs.

But it wasn’t until the country moved into lock-down mode that it was asked to contribute much more.

Just this week, ADF personnel have been deployed in contact tracing teams to help NSW health officials track down those who came in contact with passengers on the virus-stricken Ruby Princess cruise ship.

More than 100 people have tested positive from the Princess Ruby cruise ship, spread out across the country.
Dean Lewins/AAP

ADF staff are also contributing clinical and epidemiological support to the Department of Health, while engineering maintenance specialists have been called in to assist the Victoria-based Med-Con medical supplier with the production of protective masks, sanitisers and other medical items.

Yet, this is likely to be just the beginning. For example, CBRN specialists could be providing much-needed training to police and other emergency services on how to operate in contaminated environments.




Read more:
Why releasing some prisoners is essential to stop the spread of coronavirus


More defence medical staff, including mobile hospital units, decontamination equipment and emergency stocks of supplies, should be on standby to be deployed on short notice to worst-affected areas.

The military can also start assisting in ground logistical operations (for example, setting up quarantine areas and exclusion zones) and targeted emergency airlift (dispatching emergency medical teams to remote areas).

And if police resources become overstretched, military personnel could enforce quarantine orders or area shut-downs, though deploying soldiers on the streets may only be used as a last resort by the government.

If the government declares an even higher state of emergency, the military could also be called on to secure key elements of physical infrastructure (power stations, fuel depots, airports and sea ports, state borders and others), and protect key elements of supply chains.

Military helicopters were used during the bushfires to help people stranded in remote communities.
James Ross/AAP

What foreign militaries are doing

This is the strategy being embraced around the world as the pandemic worsens, with militaries being deployed in increasingly diverse tasks.

In the US, the military and National Guard are now undertaking a range of duties, such as

  • assisting civil authorities with enforcing quarantine orders by opening up defence facilities and providing mobile and floating hospitals to treat the infected

  • airlifting specialists, equipment and supplies to areas most in need and offering on-site logistical support and delivery of key items (food, medical supplies)

  • assisting in COVID-19 testing of civilians and research for a vaccine.

In the UK, up to 20,000 active defence personnel and reservists are in a higher state of readiness to respond to the pandemic, part of Operation Broadshare.

In Germany, about 3,000 military doctors and thousands of military reservists are also on standby, while France has mobilised 100,000 police officers and military personnel to enforce the country’s lock-down orders. A military field hospital also just opened this week in France to take the pressure off intensive care units.

In northern Italy, the military has been enforcing city lockdowns, in addition to transporting bodies of victims to places of cremation.

With limited resources on hand, Australia may even be in need of foreign military medical assistance if the pandemic worsens here, notably from the US. Australia received such assistance during the bushfire crisis, and Italy is currently getting similar aid from Russia.

Protecting the defenders

Of course, even as the Australian military is prepared to counter the pandemic, it’s not immune to the threat.

This week, the ADF announced it is relocating non-essential personnel out of Iraq and Afghanistan out of concern the virus could spread there.

There have also been 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Department of Defence inside Australia.

For a small standing force like the ADF, a pandemic is as much of a challenge as for the rest of the nation. But given the military’s resilience to stressful environments, a bigger role for our soldiers may be what we need right now.The Conversation

Alexey D Muraviev, Associate Professor of National Security and Strategic Studies, Curtin University

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

Aerial threat: why drone hacking could be bad news for the military



Are military drones a security threat to their own operators?
Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock

Mohiuddin Ahmed, Edith Cowan University and Paul Haskell-Dowland, Edith Cowan University

Unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly called drones, are now a fundamental part of defence force capability, from intelligence gathering to unmanned engagement in military operations. But what happens if our own technology is turned against us?

Between 2015 and 2022, the global commercial drone market is expected to grow from A$5.95 billion to A$7.47 billion.

Drones are now being used in a host of applications, including agriculture, media, parcel delivery, and defence.

However, as with all IT technology, manufacturers and users may leave the digital doors unlocked. This potentially leaves opportunities for cyber-criminals and perhaps even cyber-warfare.




Read more:
Police drones: can we trust the eyes in the skies?


Imagine a defence operation in which a drone is sent out to spy on enemy territory. The enemy identifies the drone but instead of disabling it, compromises the sensors (vision, sonar, and so on) to inject false data. Acting upon such data could then result in inappropriate tactics and, in a worst case scenario, may even lead to avoidable casualties.

UK cybersecurity consultant James Dale warned earlier this year that “equipment is now available to hack drones so they can bypass technology controls”.

Drones are relatively cheap technologies for military use – certainly cheaper than the use of satellites for surveillance. Off-the-shelf drones can be used to gather intelligence, without any significant development effort.

Meanwhile, governments have cracked down on illegal civilian drone use, and imposed no-fly zones around secure infrastructure such as airports. Drone manufacturers have been forced to provide “geofencing” software to avoid situations such as the recent drone strike in a Saudi oil field. However, cyber criminals are smart enough to bypass such controls and openly provide services to help consumers get past government and military-enforced no-fly zones.

It doesn’t cost much to skirt around the no-fly rules.
Author provided

Russian software company Coptersafe sells such modifications for a few hundred dollars. Anyone can buy a drone from a retail store, purchase the modifications, and then send their drone into no-fly zones such as military bases and airports. Ironically, Russia’s military base in Syria came under attack from drones last year.

Australia on the frontline

Australia is at the frontier of the military drone revolution, equipping itself with a fleet of hundreds of new drones. Lieutenant Colonel Keirin Joyce, discussing the program in a recent defence podcast, declared Australia will soon be “the most unmanned [air vehicle] army in the world per capita”.

It will be essential to safeguard every single component of this sophisticated unmanned aerial fleet from cyber attack.

When drones were developed, cyber security was not a priority. Let’s explore a few potential threats to drone technology:

  • drone navigation is based on the Global Positioning System (GPS). It’s possible an attacker can break the encryption of this communication channel. Fake signals can be fed to the targeted drone and the drone effectively gets lost. This type of attack can be launched without being in close physical proximity

  • with knowledge of the flight controller systems, hackers can gain access using “brute force” attacks. Then, the captured video footage can be manipulated to mislead the operator and influence ground operations

  • a drone fitted with sensors could be manipulated by injecting rogue signals. For example, the gyroscopes on a drone can be misled using an external source of audio energy. Cyber criminals may take advantage of this design characteristic to create false sensor readings

  • drones’ onboard control systems are effectively small computers. Drone control systems (onboard and ground-based controllers) are also vulnerable to malicious software or Maldrone (malware for drones). The founder and CTO of CloudSEK, Rahul Sasi discovered a backdoor in the Parrot AR.Drone. Using malicious software, an attacker can establish remote communication and can take control of the drone. Attackers can also inject false data to mislead the operators. This type of malware can be installed silently without any visible sign to the operators. The consequences are significant if the drones are used for military operations.




Read more:
Eye in the Sky and the moral dilemmas of modern warfare


As with traditional cyber-crime, it’s likely 2019 will see a sharp rise in drone-related incidents. However, these security breaches should not discourage the use of drones for personal, industrial or military applications. Drones are great tools in the era of smart cities, for instance.

But we should not forget the potential for cyber crime – and nowhere are the stakes higher than in military drone use. Clearly, the use of drones needs to be carefully regulated. And the first step is for the government and the Australian Defence Force to be fully aware of the risks.The Conversation

Mohiuddin Ahmed, Lecturer of Computing & Security, Edith Cowan University and Paul Haskell-Dowland, Associate Dean (Computing and Security), Edith Cowan University

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

America now solves problems with troops, not diplomats


Monica Duffy Toft, Tufts University

Is America a bully?

As a scholar, under the auspices of the Military Intervention Project, I have been studying every episode of U.S. military intervention from 1776 to 2017.

Historically, the U.S. advanced from a position of isolationism to one of reluctant intervenor, to global policeman. Based on my research since 2001, I believe that the U.S. has transformed itself into what many others view as a global bully.

I do not use the word lightly. But if, by definition, a bully is someone who seeks to intimidate or harm those it perceives as vulnerable, then that is an apt descriptor of contemporary U.S. foreign policy.

The decline of traditional diplomacy

Venezuela is indicative of a larger problem facing U.S. foreign policy, which currently favors troops over diplomats.

During a January press conference addressing the crisis in Venezuela, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton’s legal pad notes indicated that he felt that sending 5,000 American troops to Colombia was the preferred method to solving the presidential crisis in Venezuela.

What began as social, economic and political crisis under former president Hugo Chávez has continued into the presidency of Nicolás Maduro; who is now being pressured to step down through mass civic protests and constitutional challenges. The U.S. has struggled to respond effectively. Part of the difficulty is that the U.S. has not had an ambassador in Venezuela since July 2010.

Historically, as a reward for those with deep donor pockets, political appointees made up only 30% of U.S. ambassadorial appointments, leaving 70% of the posts to career diplomats. Under the current administration, that proportion is nearly reversed.

The professional corps of foreign affairs bureaucrats has also diminished. According to the Office of Personnel Management, under the Trump administration, the State Department lost some 12% of employees in the foreign affairs division. Its remaining diplomats are increasingly isolated from the formation and implementation of U.S. foreign policy, with foreign policy being established much more often by the executive branch, and then implemented by the Department of Defense.

From the perspective of conservative U.S. political elites, U.S. diplomacy has not suffered. Rather, its quality has shifted from often hard-headed and hard-won negotiations among career diplomats in possession of in-depth local knowledge – what we political scientists think of as traditional diplomacy – to what I have elsewhere referred to as “kinetic diplomacy”: “diplomacy” by armed force unsupported by local knowledge.

Examples from recent history

Looking at the overall use of U.S. armed force abroad, it’s clear that the U.S. has escalated over time as compared to both small and great powers.

In our database, we note every hostile incident. We rate each country’s response on a scale from 1 to 5, from the lowest level of no militarized action (1), to threat to use force, display of force, use of force and, finally, war (5). In some cases, states respond; in others, they don’t.

Over time, the U.S. has taken to responding more and more at level 4, the use of armed force. Since 2000 alone, the U.S. has engaged in 92 interventions at level 4 or 5.

Consider Mexico. Data from the Military Intervention Project reveal that the U.S. has been far more likely to attempt to resolve conflicts with Mexico by the use of armed force than has Mexico in its disputes with the U.S.

Granted, the U.S. has become dramatically more powerful in military terms than Mexico, but power in the more traditional sense is not as critical in interstate relations as it once was. Increasingly, smaller states have been able to frustrate the objectives of larger ones.

Nevertheless, our data make clear why so many Mexicans had come to think of America as a belligerent bully.

With Mexico, for instance, the U.S. frequently resorted to the use of force. Often, Mexico didn’t even offer a response to armed U.S. action. From 1806 to 1923, Mexico engaged in 20 interactions with U.S. with varying levels of hostility, while the U.S. engaged in 25, and with higher levels.

Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. levels of hostility have continued to increase. In fact, during the Cold War, the U.S. was relatively less hostile. But once the Soviet Union and its bloc went bust, the U.S. began to engage its armed forces more intensely and more frequently.

Just as with Mexico, U.S. resort to force against Iran is consistently higher than Iran’s use against the U.S. While our database records 11 hostile engagements from Iran directed at the U.S. from 1953 to 2009, the U.S. intervened in Iran 14 times.

Of course, Mexico and Iran are relatively small powers compared to the U.S. But what of China?

As with Mexico and Iran, the U.S. resort to force is much more consistent and at higher levels toward China than vice versa. From 1854 to 2009, the U.S. intervened nearly twice as much in China as China did in the U.S. Our database records 17 incidents for China and 37 for the U.S.

Tanking US global reputation

Is kinetic diplomacy – bullying – an effective way to advance U.S. national interests?

In terms of the country’s global reputation, being a bully is not paying off. A February survey revealed 45% of global respondents viewed U.S. power and influence as a major threat to global security, with the largest shares originating in South Korea, Japan and Mexico – notably all U.S. allies.

The U.S. is now seen globally as a bigger threat to global prosperity and peace than China and Russia.

The U.S. is seen as a threat not simply because it has expanded its use of armed force abroad over time, but because at the same time it has abrogated a number of its own core principles of legitimacy.

Among the principles that have been abandoned: The U.S. maintains it has a right to treat “enemy combatants” outside the rules of the laws of armed conflict, while insisting its own armed forces not be subject to international investigations.

It has detained people without trial, sometimes indefinitely and without legal representation.

It has even allowed its chief executive – in this case President Barack Obama – to order the execution of an American citizen abroad without trial.

It has separated young children from their asylum-seeking parents in order to deter other families from seeking asylum, regardless of the validity of their asylum claims.

In short, the U.S. has surrendered its moral high ground. That makes any U.S. use of armed force increasingly appear illegitimate to the residents of other countries, and increasingly our own.The Conversation

Monica Duffy Toft, Professor of International Politics and Director of the Center for Strategic Studies at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University

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

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


John Blaxland, Australian National University

Just when we thought Australia was getting serious about shifting priorities away from the Middle East to its own neighbourhood, the prime minister has announced another Middle East step up. Australia has committed a warship, surveillance aircraft and defence personnel to help keep the Strait of Hormuz open for shipping.




Read more:
Infographic: what is the conflict between the US and Iran about and how is Australia now involved?


So what is going on?

As it happens, the commitment to the Middle East is essentially a rebadging of a routine commitment of Australian Defence Force (ADF) assets. Australia has about 2,250 military personnel deployed on operations. These include:

  • Operations Accordion and Manitou in the Middle East (740 people)
  • Operation Aslan in support of UN peacekeeping in Sudan (25)
  • Operation Mazurka established in Egypt after the signing of the Egypt-Israel peace accord (27)
  • Operation Okra in support of counter-ISIL operations in and around Iraq (450)
  • Operation Paladin, with small contingents on rotation for over 70 years with the UN Truce Supervision Organisation in Israel/Lebanon (12)
  • Operation Augury, providing training and related support for the armed forces in the Philippines after the siege of Marawi in Mindanao (100)
  • Operation Resolute, involving border protection-related tasks (600).

Australia has a defence force of about 60,000 full-time uniformed personnel and 25,000 in the reserves. So this commitment of about 2,250 personnel is sustainable, for now, as long as security challenges closer to home don’t rapidly escalate.

This also means the operational tempo of border protection or any of the other ongoing operations is not expected to decrease as a result of this commitment. Some of these elements, notably Operation Manitou, will perform more than one role.

Operation Manitou is the Royal Australian Navy commitment of one warship to the Combined Maritime Forces (with 32 participant nations) that operate in and around the Persian Gulf. Australian warships have been doing this on rotation for the best part of 30 years.

Similarly, the Royal Australian Air Force P8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft have been operating intermittently out of the Persian Gulf for years. The extra defence planning personnel announced likely will be drawn from a pool already assigned to support Australian operations, notably attached to US military headquarters semi-permanently based in and around the Gulf.

So why make all the fuss with the announcement?

It appears pressure from the United States as well as Britain has convinced the government of the importance of making a contribution.

To be fair, it is not a token contribution. The warship and P8 are capable platforms that have made a tangible difference in the past in countering piracy, smuggling and related security concerns in the Persian Gulf. And, as the prime minister reminded us, the Gulf is the source of much of Australia’s oil.

So, while not a token contribution in one sense, it is not a significantly onerous addition to what Australia has been contributing there for a long time.

However, in international diplomacy, words matter, and small contributions can have significant effects. No doubt, Australian policymakers were mindful of making a contribution that would satisfy the US after declining Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s suggestion to base intermediate-range and potentially nuclear-armed ballistic missiles in Australia.

While Australia can sustain this new commitment without a significant surge, there is growing recognition that committing forces to operations in the Middle East detracts from the ability of the ADF to focus on high-priority areas closer to home.

The 2016 Defence White Paper referred to three strategic defence interests. These are: a secure and resilient Australia; a secure nearer region (including the Pacific and Southeast Asia) and a stable Indo-Pacific region; and a rules-based global order.

But China’s increasing illiberalism and regional assertiveness across Southeast Asia and into the South Pacific have generated considerable unease over spreading ourselves too thinly.




Read more:
As Australia’s soft power in the Pacific fades, China’s voice gets louder


Consequently, a consensus is growing among security and defence experts that we need to double down on our investment in defence and security capabilities.

Reports along similar lines have been published recently by the United States Studies Centre and my own Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, among others.

My colleague Brendan Taylor warns of the volatility of the four flashpoints in Asia: the Korean Peninsula, the East China Sea, Taiwan and the South China Sea. That was before the Hong Kong protests and the news of militarised ports in Cambodia.

Another colleague, Hugh White, has called for spending up to 3.5% of GDP on defence to boost the air and naval forces.

Senator Jim Molan has argued for a fresh national security strategy.

My own geostrategic SWOT analysis for Australia points to the need for a more holistic consideration of issues related to looming environmental catastrophe (affecting biodiversity and societal sustainability), a spectrum of governance challenges (such as cyberterrorism and organised crime) and great power contestation.

That paper calls for, among other things, a national institute for net assessment to weigh up how best to respond.

In essence, the prime minister has deftly handled the call for a commitment in solidarity with the United States. But the Strait of Hormuz issue is only one of many looming security challenges. Its emergence at the top of the news pile points to the need for a significant and far-reaching re-examination of our defence and security posture and priorities.The Conversation

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

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

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



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

Clive Hamilton, Charles Sturt University

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

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

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




Read more:
Four Corners’ forced labour exposé shows why you might be wearing slave-made clothes


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

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

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

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

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

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

Defence controls

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

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

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




Read more:
Patriotic songs and self-criticism: why China is ‘re-educating’ Muslims in mass detention camps


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

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

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

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

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

Fixing the system

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

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

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




Read more:
The world has a hard time trusting China. But does it really care?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russia is a rising military power in the Asia-Pacific, and Australia needs to take it seriously


Alexey D Muraviev, Curtin University

Many analysts have seen China’s rapidly growing naval power as a sign that Australia needs to rethink its defence strategy in the Asia-Pacific region. Indeed, China has made remarkable strides in building up its defence capability. But it is worth noting that another military power is increasingly making its presence felt in our region – Russia.

The Coalition government does not give Russia much consideration at all in its current strategic planning. None of the recent Australian defence white papers, including the 2016 paper, considered Russia a significant military power. This perception stems from post-Cold War assumptions that Moscow has little political influence due to its reduced military power and limited economic engagement with our region.

Perhaps these assumptions were true in the 1990s or even ten years ago. However, current strategic realities are very different.

Putin’s game plan for military prowess

In the 2000s, Russia’s military began to gradually rebuild its combat potential. Under President Vladimir Putin’s leadership, the once cash-strapped military force received a massive financial boost and, more importantly, full political support.

After years of decline and neglect, Russian military power in the Asia-Pacific region is making a major leap forward. According to my research, Russian air force units deployed to East Asia received some 300 new upgraded aircraft from 2013-18. This is about equal to the total strength of the current Royal Australian Air Force.

By 2019, the Russian Eastern Military District (the military arm responsible for operations across the Pacific) is expected to receive more than 6,240 pieces of new and upgraded military equipment. This will include battle tanks, missiles and heavy artillery, aircraft, electronic warfare systems and more.




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


The Russian Pacific Fleet, the main means for Russia to exert power in the region, is expected to receive some 70 new warships by 2026. This will include 11 nuclear-powered and diesel-electric submarines, and 19 new surface warships – nearly the same number Australia is planning to add over the coming decade.

Russia is also increasingly showcasing this new-found military power in the region.

From late August to mid-September, the Russian military carried out the largest single show of its military power in 37 years, the Vostok 2018 war games. According to the Russian Ministry of Defence, the war games involved 297,000 personnel, more than 1,000 aircraft and 80 warships. A sequence of large-scale exercises was held across eastern Siberia, the Russian Far East and parts of the Arctic. The maritime component was staged in the Okhotsk and Bering seas on Russia’s Pacific coast.

The Vostok 2018 strategic manoeuvres in Siberia and along the Pacific coast.

Condemned by NATO as a rehearsal for “large scale conflict”, the war games signalled that Russia’s military is prepared for possible confrontation in the Asia-Pacific region. This reinforces what many analysts believe is Putin’s intention – to reassert Russia’s status as a global power.




Read more:
Russia not so much a (re)rising superpower as a skilled strategic spoiler


Russia’s ‘soft’ military power on the rise

Russia also continues to be a key provider of advanced military technology in the Asia-Pacific region. Last year, Russia supplied 52 countries globally with US$45 billion worth of arms – making it the world’s second-biggest arms supplier, behind the US. Over 60% of Russian arms exports go to Asian countries, with Southeast Asia accounting for most of that total.

Putin meeting Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi this month.
Harish Tyagi/EPA

The Russian military is making its presence felt. This month alone, the Russian army staged joint exercises with Pakistan, while Russian warships were operating in the Indian and Pacific oceans.

Through these arms sales and joint activities, Russia is increasingly bringing Asian countries into its orbit and altering the balance of power in the region by increasing their military capabilities.

In addition to existing security and defence relationships with China, India and more recently Pakistan, Russia has been actively seeking to build ties with other countries on Australia’s doorstep – Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Fiji.

Australia should closely follow Moscow’s growing strategic intimacy with Beijing. In contrast with Western countries, Russia has been willing to share its military expertise with China. And China has taken up the offer. The PLA, for instance, took part in the Vostok 2018 war games under Russia’s command.

Russian activities in and around Australia

Finally, we should not be ignorant of Russia’s activities in Australia and near our shores, which have intensified in recent years.

In 2009, Australian intelligence reported a sharp increase in Russian intelligence-gathering activities in Australia. Russia continues to have an interest in Australia’s national intelligence, especially highly sensitive information shared by the US and its NATO allies.

In November 2014, a Russian naval task group staged operations near Australia’s north at the same time Putin attended the G-20 summmit in Brisbane. This triggered a brief media storm, and was seen by some as a projection of Russia’s naval power.

Last December, Russian strategic bombers conducted exercises out of an Indonesian airfield close to Australia, forcing Australian Defence personnel in Darwin into a state of “increased readiness”. There were concerns the exercises may have been aimed at information gathering.

Then in March, two “undeclared intelligence officers” were expelled from the Russian embassy in Canberra, raising more questions about Russian covert activities in Australia. Two months later, a Russian training warship visited Papua New Guinea – the first visit of its kind for the Russian navy.

Australia-Russia relations at a low point

Russia is making its presence felt in the region for the benefit of its regional allies and clients, and as a form of deterrent to its geopolitical rivals.

Australia’s strategic alliance with the US is clearly on Moscow’s radar. Russia has a keen interest in our joint defence facilities and intelligence sharing, as well as our latest defence technology and operations.




Read more:
Russia’s grand strategy: how Putin is using Syria conflict to turn Turkey into Moscow’s proxy


Australia’s hard stance on issues related to Russia, such as Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict and the attempted assassination of former double agent Sergei Skripal in the UK, further complicates our relations with Moscow.

In October, Canberra also joined London in condemning the Russian military for its ongoing cyber-operations against the West, including Australia.

Australia’s relations with Moscow are at their lowest point in decades. And while Australia is by no means a priority for Russia, the country is still being viewed as a geopolitical and security rival. The time has come for us to appreciate a power north of the Great Wall, as well.The Conversation

Alexey D Muraviev, Associate Professor of National Security and Strategic Studies, Curtin University

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