How likely is conflict between the US and Iran?



This week’s attack on Saudi oil facilities appears to be the latest effort by Iran to escalate tensions in the Persian Gulf to push back on the US ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions campaign.
Pavel Golovkin/EPA

Ben Rich, Curtin University

This week’s strikes on the Abqaiq and Khurais oil processing facilities in Saudi Arabia represent the latest in a pattern of actions by the Islamic Republic of Iran to escalate tensions in the Persian Gulf.

Unlike previous incidents, the impact of this attack has not just been felt locally. With half of Saudi oil output halted – around 6% of total world production – global fuel oil prices have spiked. The markets are spooked.

Direct culpability for the attack remains unclear. While Yemeni Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility, other sources and evidence have pointed to an Iraqi source, potentially the Hashd al-Shaabi militia.

Some sources inside the US government have also outright accused Iran itself. This seems unlikely, though, given Iran’s penchant for proxy activity and plausible deniability.




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Regardless of who physically pressed the launch button, however, it is almost certain that Tehran was the primary enabler of the strike. The state has a long history of supplying proxy non-state actors with the equipment, intelligence and training necessary to execute such attacks.

Indeed, in the context of the past few months, the attack appears to be the latest in a series of efforts by Iran to escalate tensions and insecurity in the Persian Gulf to push back on the US “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign.

A strategy of tension

Since early this year, Iran has committed itself to a strategy of destabilisation in and around the Arabian Peninsula.

The reasons have been myriad, but primarily revolve around the fallout from the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear agreement. This has left Iran diplomatically isolated, economically strained and feeling betrayed by the wider international community.

Seeing few good options, the Iranian leadership has decided to promote chaos and instability to inflict what pain it can on global energy markets. The hope is this will add urgency to the negotiations with world powers and force them to seek a political solution to the economic and security standoff that provides an acceptable exit for Iran.

According to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Islamic Republic has been involved in nearly 100 incidents over the past few months targeting oil, transport and security infrastructure and equipment.

These have included attacks and seizures of several oil tankers in the gulf, as well as strikes on airports, military bases, diplomatic compounds and now oil facilities in Saudi Arabia.

Iran seized the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero in July.
Hasan Shirvani/EPA

While Iran has been directly implicated in a few of these cases, the majority appear to have been undertaken by allied non-state actors in Iraq and Yemen.

If one considers Iran’s historical patronage of such organisations, this should come as no surprise. Since the revolution in 1979, the Islamic Republic has actively cultivated relationships with such groups as a key part of its foreign policy, most famously with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Such close alliances have permitted Tehran to project its influence into areas it otherwise would have little access to. They also grant a degree of plausible deniability when it comes to radical actions like those witnessed this week.

This can make it diplomatically more difficult for affected countries to assign blame and, more importantly, react to such provocations.




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


In the case of the attacks on the Saudi oil facilities, the Iranian leadership has staunchly rejected any responsibility, framing the attack as Houthi revenge against Saudi war crimes.

What was notable in these attacks was their relative bloodlessness and precision. They were primarily designed to threaten and inflict economic harm and uncertainty, rather than kill and maim.

This, combined with a general commitment to employing militant proxies, highlights the Iranian desire to create enough tension to achieve political outcomes, while avoiding crossing a threshold that would lead to dramatic military blowback from the US and its allies.

This is a fine line to walk at the best of times.

Gambling on inaction

Tehran’s brinkmanship rests on an assumption that calibrated provocations will not elicit serious reprisals.

Iran’s security elites have concluded that the Trump administration has little stomach for serious foreign military adventurism. A quick examination of the recent historical record shows that while the current American leadership has demonstrated an unprecedented amount of security policy bark – particularly on Twitter – this has not coincided with a similar level of bite.

Trump’s initial threats of “fire and fury” towards North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in 2017 were quickly shown to be pure bluster.

Indeed, such bellicose posturing quickly gave way to unprecedented dialogue between the two countries. This culminated in an ongoing series of no-strings-attached summits in which the US president bizarrely prostrated himself before the Hermit Kingdom’s autocrat for little clear gain.




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More evidence of American reticence can be found in Syria. Trump loudly and continually warned against Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians.

But, when push came to shove, punitive measures by the US proved little more than anaemic symbolism and posed no serious threat to the regime’s survival.

Just a few months ago, Trump also aborted several military strikes on Iranian military targets after the downing of a US drone. It was another indication Washington has little appetite for open conflict.

Internally, Trump has also clashed heavily with several of the hawks in his administration. In some cases, he has purged them when their views clashed too heavily with his own risk aversion.

The most notable recent example was the humiliating dismissal of his national security adviser, John Bolton, one of the 2003 Iraq war’s chief architects and a staunch advocate of regime change in Iran.

Trump has backed away from confrontation with Iran in recent days, saying he wants to wait for the result of an investigation into the Saudi strike.
Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Rolling the dice

The Saudi incident this week represents an undeniable and significant escalation by Iran in its ongoing campaign of tension in the region. The attack has seriously raised the stakes and potential for a conflict between both regional and global players.

But looking at the Trump administration’s recent history, Iranian foreign policymakers are assuming their actions will not spark a dramatic escalation.

In theory, this is a reasonable conclusion, supported by evidence. But security dilemmas like this are characterised by an incredibly complex intersection of competing interests, understandings and short time frames. This often leads to tragic and unpredictable outcomes for those involved.

One has only to look at the ramifications of a previous US intervention against Iranian disruption in the gulf, Operation Praying Mantis in 1988, for evidence of the potential for a rapid escalation to large-scale military exchange.The Conversation

Ben Rich, Lecturer in International Relations and Security Studies, Curtin University

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

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As Scott Morrison heads to Washington, the US-Australia alliance is unlikely to change



Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

David Smith, University of Sydney

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s official visit to Washington this week carries some prestige. It is just the second “official visit” (including a state dinner) by a foreign leader during the Trump presidency, and the first by an Australian since John Howard in 2006. Despite a rocky start, relations between Australia and the US have been uniquely smooth in the Trump era.

Many traditional allies have learned to endure constant insults from the president. Trump complains bitterly about allies taking advantage of the United States in trade deals and defence alliances. France, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Denmark, Canada, Mexico and the whole of NATO have all been on the receiving end of Trump’s scorn.

In contrast, the leaders of a select group of Middle Eastern allies – Saudi Arabia, Israel, the UAE, and Egypt – have enjoyed extravagant backing from Trump, born of a mutual hostility to Iran and Barack Obama.

Australia seems to be in its own category as a long-standing ally that rarely attracts the attention of the president. In the absence of either tantrums or patronage, business as usual has quietly continued.

Australia’s unique position may be largely because we have a trade deficit with the United States, rather than the other way around. This is an issue of core importance to Trump, and the US gets its fifth-largest trade surplus from Australia at US$7.8 billion.

Australia’s outgoing ambassador, Joe Hockey, has cultivated a genuinely warm personal relationship with Trump that lubricates various bargains. It’s impossible to imagine him suffering the same fate as the UK’s Kim Darroch.

Morrison also understands the usefulness of a close personal relationship with the president and has steadily worked on this. It helps that Trump believes he has some political affinity with him.

But the relationship between the Australian and American governments is much broader than the one between president and prime minister. It is conducted behind the scenes every day by public servants on both sides and reflects decades of cooperation. Earlier this year, pro-Australian forces in the US government successfully defused Trump’s irritation at the volume of Australian aluminium exports to the US. Australia remains the only country with a complete exemption from American steel and aluminium tariffs.

This very stability may limit the scope of what Trump and Morrison can talk about. Most issues are relatively settled. However, the US-China trade war, and Australia’s role in it, will almost certainly be a topic of conversation.

Given the risks to Australia from a trade war, some had hoped Morrison could influence Trump to de-escalate tensions. In June, Morrison warned against the development of a “zero-sum mindset” on trade. He told a London audience that the World Trade Organisation, then under attack from the US, needed support as the US-China trade conflict put prosperity and living standards at risk.




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Back then, there was still hope of an agreement, which now seems more remote than ever. Morrison seems resigned to an enduring conflict between two of our largest trading partners. He has said the world will have to get used to it and that the conflict is all about the need to enforce the rules of global trade on China.

Australia has long shared American concerns that China flouts the rules to the extent that it undermines the whole system. Indeed, Australians have sometimes worried that Trump’s obsession with trade deficits is actually a distraction from this deeper issue.

In February, Hockey warned Trump against making a deal with China that would reduce the deficit while leaving structural issues unaddressed. But none of this means Morrison would accept an invitation from Trump to join the US in the trade war.

Morrison has already committed Australian support to the US effort to guard oil shipments from Iranian seizures in the Strait of Hormuz. This is the kind of invitation Australia rarely refuses. A frigate, surveillance and patrol aircraft and some personnel will go to the Persian Gulf, though it is unclear when.




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


Other US allies, some of whom are signatories to the Iran nuclear deal, have declined to make even modest contributions such as these. They see the current crisis, correctly, as Trump’s fault and they fear provoking further conflict with Iran.

Even after Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal, reimposing sanctions that led to increased hostilities, the Morrison government opted to continue support for the deal, subject to Iranian compliance (which is now evaporating).

Both major parties are framing Australia’s support for the US in terms of our commitment to freedom of navigation and a rules-based international order.

Morrison is likely to reaffirm this commitment in Washington, without getting into discussions about why Trump withdrew from an agreement that his own intelligence agencies said was working. The recent demise of John Bolton as national security adviser will hopefully make it less likely that Australia faces any questions about deeper military involvement in the Gulf.

Morrison is keen to secure Trump’s first visit to Australia, for the President’s Cup golf tournament in December. While he lauds Trump as “a good president for Australia”, Australians are sceptical. A US Studies Centre poll in July found only 19% of Australians want to see Trump re-elected (that includes just 29% of Coalition voters).

In fairness to Trump, polls conducted in 2008 and 2012 found even smaller numbers of Australians wanted John McCain (16%) or Mitt Romney (5%) to win those presidential elections. The Republican Party this century has been well to the right of nearly every other mainstream conservative party in the world, including the Liberal Party.

Trump isn’t the first deeply unpopular president Australia has seen and he won’t be the last. In the 2019 Lowy Institute Poll, 64% of respondents say Australia “should remain close to the United States under President Donald Trump”.

There is no danger of that changing under Morrison.The Conversation

David Smith, Senior Lecturer in American Politics and Foreign Policy, Academic Director of the US Studies Centre, University of Sydney

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

In the Democrats’ bitter race to find a candidate to beat Trump, might Elizabeth Warren hold the key?



She’s sitting third on the list of Democratic nomination contenders, but might Elizabeth Warren ultimately be the person to beat Donald Trump?
EPA/AAP/Craig Lassig

Dennis Altman, La Trobe University

Conservative former congressman Joe Walsh recently announced he would challenge Donald Trump for the Republican Party’s 2020 Presidential nomination.

Challenging an incumbent president is not new: both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter faced very significant challenges when they sought a further term. But Trump’s hold on Republicans suggests that no challenge is likely to succeed.

For the Democrats, however, the race to oppose Trump is now wide open and bitter.

The American political system allows participation through primary elections in ways unknown in our tightly controlled party system.




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Millions of voters take part in choosing the candidate of their party. This can have strange consequences; some of Bernie Sanders’ supporters were so disaffected by the nomination of Hillary Clinton that perhaps 10% of them voted for Trump.

Candidates must damage their opponents without providing ammunition that can be used against their party in the November elections.

Presidential primaries stretch across the first half of 2020. These include several key contests determined by caucuses, which involve actual attendance for several hours to register one’s choice. Because Iowa traditionally leads off, huge attention is paid to the results there.

Iowa is a state with a population of just over 3 million, and is far whiter than the United States. Its caucuses are followed by three other small states: New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, which between them start to look like the country as a whole.

Every Democratic candidate is spending time and resources in the early states, with teams of volunteers criss-crossing the small towns of Iowa and New Hampshire and wooing minority communities in Nevada (Hispanic) and South Carolina (African-American).

By the end of February, expect the field to have shrunk from the current dozen or so serious contenders to about half that number. On March 3 comes a slew of votes across 16 states, including California and Texas. The results that day will either produce a clear front runner or a dogged three-way fight lasting three more months.

One of the oddities of the Democratic race so far is that the two leading candidates and the incumbent president are all white men in their seventies, well past the accepted American retirement age.

The two best known Democratic contenders are Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, who cover the ideological spectrum of the Democratic Party: Sanders on the left and Biden on the right. Both entered the race with considerable money and name recognition, and both have started slipping in the polls as younger candidates have gained attention.

Some current polls now place Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts as equalling their support. Warren shares some of Sanders’ radical positions on health care and taxation, but she is careful to not define herself as a socialist, and she has the same grasp of policy as did Hillary Clinton.

Trump would undoubtedly campaign against Warren as another effete east coast liberal, invoking the failure of two previous candidates from Boston, Michael Dukakis and John Kerry.

Democrat voters looking for someone younger and different may swing behind Senator Kamala Harris from California, a former Attorney-General who is positioning herself as someone who transcends both racial and gender prejudices.

Kamala Harris is another Democratic runner polling well.
AAP/EPA/Elijah Nouvelage

Polls in Iowa and New Hampshire show Harris and Pete Buttigieg as the only other candidates who consistently poll over 10%. Buttigieg is the unexpected dark horse: gay, young, ex-military and mayor of South Bend, Indiana, which is smaller than Geelong. He far outpolls more experienced candidates – one of them, Kirsten Gillibrand, has already withdrawn.




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The candidates are united in their dislike of Donald Trump, but this is a battle of egos and ideologies. Do the Democrats seek to win over Trump supporters in key states by appealing to a mythical “centre”? Do they try to win over Republicans, particularly educated women who made up some of the base for their victories in last year’s House of Representatives election? Or do they concentrate on their potential supporters among the young and minority communities who are less likely to vote?

In a country where fewer than 60% of those eligible bother to vote, the last option would seem the most viable, but that requires candidates who can speak to the disinterested and the disenfranchised.

Both racism and sexism played a role in Trump’s victory, and Biden’s current lead in the polls suggests many Democrats feel an older white man is their safest choice. But if the Democrats are to galvanise young and minority voters to turn out they need a candidate who is clearly very different to Trump.

The electoral college system means that winning the popular vote, as Clinton did, does not guarantee victory. In key mid-western industrial states the vote may well be determined by the consequences of Trump’s current economic policies.

Much can change before Democratic supporters start declaring their choice in six months. Several of the also-rans may surprise us; maybe one of the front-runners will drop out.

Were Bernie Sanders to withdraw and throw his support to Elizabeth Warren, she would become the front-runner; it’s less clear where Biden’s supporters would go, but if he polls poorly in February, he is likely to fade away.

At this point in 2015, pundits were predicting a presidential race between Clinton and Jeb Bush, with Clinton favoured to win. Nothing in politics is predictable.The Conversation

Dennis Altman, Professorial Fellow in Human Security, La Trobe University

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

This is why nuking a hurricane will not work, Mr Trump


Liz Ritchie-Tyo, UNSW

President Donald Trump has reportedly suggested on more than one occasion that the US military explode nuclear bombs inside hurricanes to disrupt them before they reach land.

As reported in National Geographic, this is not the first time a suggestion like this has been made – although Trump now denies having said it.

On the surface, it would seem like a simple solution to the devastation that occurs in the US each year during the hurricane season. However, there are several problems with this idea.




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What is a hurricane?

Hurricanes are low-pressure weather systems covering an area of more than 500,000km². They form over warm tropical oceans, which are their primary energy source. The low pressure at the centre of the hurricane – the eye – draws in the surrounding warm, moist air. This air then rises and condenses into deep thunderstorm clouds surrounding the centre – the eyewall – and also in cloud bands spiralling out from the eye called rainbands.

As the air is pulled into the eye, Earth’s rotation causes it to spin cyclonically – anticlockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere. The continuous supply of air into the deep thunderstorms surrounding the eye allows the hurricane to intensify until it reaches a steady state of equilibrium with the oceans and the environment.

Would a nuclear bomb put a dent in a hurricane?

The average hurricane can be likened to a very inefficient heat engine. As the warm moist air rises, it releases heat energy through the formation of clouds and rain at a rate of about 5.2 x 10¹⁹ joules per day. Less than 10% of this heat is then converted into the mechanical energy of the wind.

To give some perspective of this energy, the heat released in a hurricane is equivalent to a 10-megatonne nuclear bomb exploding every hour. This energy is also on the order of the global energy consumption in 2016, according to the United States Energy Information Agency.

It seems unlikely that exploding a bomb in the hurricane would make much impact on such a powerful weather system, and it is impossible to run controlled experiments to determine whether it would.

Not to mention that there could be shocking effects from the fallout of radioactive material from such an explosion. These materials would be transported widely via the trade winds through the lower levels of the atmosphere, and potentially around the entire planet in the stratosphere – similar to the effects from the volcanic fallout from Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991.

Have people tried to stop hurricanes before?

There have been previous attempts to modify the impacts of hurricanes. Between 1962 and 1983 the US government funded experimental research on hurricane modification known as Project STORMFURY. The fundamental premise was, because the potential of damage from hurricanes increases rapidly with the hurricane’s wind speed, a reduction in wind speed of as little as 10% could make a large difference in the impacts when hurricanes reach land. By seeding the air outside the eyewall with silver iodide, a chemical used to seed clouds, it was thought a new ring of thunderstorms may develop outside the eyewall – robbing it of energy and weakening the hurricane.




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Modification was attempted in four hurricanes on eight different days. On four of those days, a 10-30% reduction in wind speed was measured. The lack of response on the other fours days was initially interpreted to be the result of faulty execution of the experiment, but was later attributed to an imperfect understanding of the microphysics of clouds in hurricanes.

Successful cloud seeding using silver iodide requires that supercooled water droplets freeze onto the silver iodide seeds.

Recent observations show hurricanes have too many naturally occurring ice crystals and too few supercooled water droplets for cloud seeding to be effective. So any change in hurricane wind speed observed during the STORMFURY experiments was almost certainly due to the natural behaviour of hurricanes rather than human intervention.

Although Project STORMFURY was abandoned, the hurricane observation program is still run under the Hurricane Research Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The original aircraft used in Project STORMFURY were replaced in the 1970s by WP-3D aircraft, which still reside under NOAA and are operated by its officers.




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The observations collected by these aircraft continuously over a period of more than 60 years has helped improve hurricane forecasting. Furthermore, these observations have allowed researchers to develop vital insights into the structure, intensity, and physical processes of this most destructive of natural phenomena.The Conversation

Liz Ritchie-Tyo, Associate Professor, School of Physical, Environmental, and Mathematical Sciences, UNSW

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

The Strait of Hormuz is the most important oil choke point in the world. Use our interactive map to explore it



Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Wes Mountain, The Conversation

After months of increasing tension between Iran and the US, on Tuesday the Morrison government committed a warship, surveillance aircraft and about 200 troops to a US-led convoy to protect ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz.

But why is this small passage – just 39km across at its narrowest point – so important to the international oil trade and why has it become the stage for the growing conflict between the two powers?

And, more to the point, where is it?

Click through our interactive below to get everything you need to know about the Strait and the events that led to Australia’s involvement.


The Conversation


Wes Mountain, Multimedia Editor, The Conversation

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.




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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.




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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.

Greenland isn’t Denmark’s to sell: some essential reading for Trump on colonialism



The coast of Greenland is not for sale.
Shutterstock

Felicity Jensz, University of Münster

Donald Trump is not the first US President to make an offer of buying Greenland from Denmark – but he might be the last.

Home of some 56,000 people and around 80% covered by ice, Greenland is culturally connected to Europe – but physiographically it is a part of the continent of North America.

The USA has purchased from the icy northern territories before. In 1867, they bought Alaska for US$7.2 million from Russia, who established settlements there in the late eighteenth century.

Then (as now) no local Indigenous people were consulted in the transaction.

A long history of American colonialism

The history of settler colonialism in North America includes numerous land purchases, including with Indigenous peoples, such as the 1737 Walking Purchase which tricked the Delaware Indians out of more than double the amount of land than they expected, purchased only for “goods”.

America has successfully purchased land from other European countries, including over two million square kilometres of North America from France in 1803 in the Louisiana Purchase for US$15 million.

This map from 1903 shows the extent of the Louisiana Purchase.
Wikimedia Commons

The United States has also purchased Danish colonies before. In 1917, Denmark sold the Danish West Indies (US$25 million) to the United States, which the Americans promptly renamed the United States Virgin Islands. This isn’t even the first time a US president has tried to buy Greenland – President Harry Truman offered to buy it from Denmark in 1946 for $US100 million.

America has also gained territory by force of arms, such as when Spain ceded the Philippines to the USA after the Spanish-American War with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in December 1898. And they have opportunistically annexed territories after they suffered internal political turmoil, such as in the case of the annexation of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893 in the years after Queen Liliʻuokalani was overthrown.

Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii, photographed around 1891.
Wikimedia Commons

A Dano-Norwegian colony

Trump believes he can simply purchase Greenland from Denmark. Put bluntly, this is impossible, although the mistake is perhaps an easy one to make for someone with a colonial era mindset and only a passing familiarity with the region.

For the last two centuries, Greenland has predominately been a Danish colony, and, as the example of Alaska demonstrates, colonies were often sold and exchanged by imperial powers. Truman’s offer in 1946 was when Greenland was a Danish colony.

Leaving aside its Viking past, the colonial period for Greenland began in 1721, when the Danish-Norwegian missionary Hans Egede established a mission and began trading near present-day Nuuk, placing Greenland under joint control of the Dano-Norwegian monarchy. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, Greenland became a sole colony under Denmark.

It remained a Danish colony until 1953, after a referendum sparked by Danish discomfort with the United Nations’ oversight of the relationship between Denmark and Greenlanders. Greenland was formally incorporated into the Danish Realm as an autonomous territory without consultation with Greenlanders.

The reality was that Greenland was still a colony in all but name.

Striving for recognition

Greenlanders continued striving for political recognition and autonomy from their former colonisers. The Greenland Home Rule Act in 1979 in was a step towards this autonomy, establishing Greenland’s own parliament and further sovereignty.

In 2008, the country hosted a referendum to support or oppose the Greenland Self-Government Act. Passing with 75% of the vote, it declared Greenlanders are a distinct people within the Danish Realm.

Politically, this placed the Greenlandic parliament on an equal basis with the Danish parliament – although this relationship is not always an easy one. Some aspects of Greenland’s politics are still under Danish control, such as foreign policy, security and international agreements.

The Greenlandic and Danish flags flying together.
Pixabay, CC BY

But under the current laws, Greenlanders have the right to self-determination, and any agreement to purchase Greenland – no matter who made it – would have to be agreed upon by Greenlanders.

‘Greenland is Greenlandic’

Denmark’s prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, has dismissed Trump’s claims that Denmark essentially owns Greenland, stating that “Greenland is Greenlandic.”

Unlike in the Alaskan purchase of the nineteenth century, the agreement of Greenlanders would be essential for any “large real estate deal” that stripped them of their land and sovereignty.

Kim Kilesen, the Prime Minister of Greenland, has emphatically stated that Greenland is not for sale. And if it was, he would be the one to ask – not Denmark.

Greenland is not Denmark’s to sell.The Conversation

Felicity Jensz, Research associate professor, University of Münster

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

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



Australia will commit a frigate, an aircraft and some headquarters staff to a US-led operation in the Strait of Hormuz.
AAP/Marc Tewksbury

Natalie Klein, UNSW

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed that Australia will lend military support to protect shipping in the Middle East.

The commitment has been long expected, with Australia sending a frigate, an aircraft and some headquarters staff as part of a US-led coalition in the Strait of Hormuz, amid deepening tensions between the US and Iran.

So what is this conflict about, what is Australia’s involvement, and what are the risks associated with it?

What is the Strait of Hormuz?

The Strait of Hormuz is a narrow body of ocean connecting the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Its width varies, but at its narrowest is 39km. It is the main passage for transporting oil from the Middle East out into the Indian Ocean and beyond; a fifth of the world’s oil is shipped through this strait. This includes 15-16% of crude oil and 25-30% of refined oil that is destined for Australia.

Iran and Oman border the Strait of Hormuz. As the littoral states, they have sovereignty over the waters in the Strait of Hormuz, but that sovereignty is subject to navigational rights enjoyed by all states. Ships from all countries have the right to move continuously and expeditiously through these waters without interference from either of the coastal states.

What is the conflict between Iran and the US about?

The primary concern in relation to the Strait of Hormuz at the moment is interference with commercial shipping. The United States has accused Iran of attacks against tankers and has destroyed an Iranian drone.

In recent weeks, Iran has seized the Stena Impero, a British-flagged commercial tanker, as well as a US drone. It also boarded but released a Liberian-flagged, British-owned vessel. These actions have heightened concerns about navigational rights through the strait and the consequences for global oil supply.

This is all against a backdrop of heightened tension between Iran and the United States, resulting from American sanctions against Iran and its abandonment of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. It is the latest rift in a relationship that has been fraught for decades, punctuated by events like Iran taking over the US embassy and holding hostages in 1979, the United States backing Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, and Iran’s development of a nuclear program in the 1990s.

Shipping has previously been threatened within the Persian Gulf and along the Strait of Hormuz, especially during the Iran-Iraq war. This conflict was also known as the Tanker War because of the threats to commercial ships transporting oil out of the Gulf. It resulted in the United States and other neutral states providing naval escorts and conducting convoys to protect shipping.

What is Australia’s involvement?

Australia has announced it will be joining an “International Maritime Security Construct” that is focused on ensuring the freedom of shipping lanes and commercial navigation.

This international presence is intended to respond to incidents and threats as they occur during passage through the strait. The prime minister has announced that Australia’s involvement is limited in terms of time and resources and emphasised the importance of de-escalation.

A legal difficulty for Australia is that this sort of convoy relies on a doctrine that is associated with the law of naval warfare, and so would usually only apply if there is an armed conflict between states. Australia is instead maintaining the view that its warships are also exercising their navigational rights through the Strait of Hormuz.

The new mission is cast as an enhancement of previous contributions to counter-terrorism and counter-piracy operations. However, these operations have been directed at non-state actors, rather than the naval forces of another country. Iran may claim that their presence constitutes an unlawful threat of the use of force.

The previous UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, characterised Iran’s actions as “state piracy”. He advocated for “European-led maritime protection mission(s) to support safe passage of both crew and cargo”.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson instead decided to join the US-led mission. In joining this effort, Australia has emphasised the importance of its multilateral nature. This matters when it is recalled that the oil tankers concerned are typically flagged to a wide variety of states, are owned by nationals from other states, might be chartered by companies from different states and are frequently crewed by nationals from diverse states.

As a result, far more countries than just Iran, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia have stakes in these issues.

How does it affect the global oil trade?

The prospect of oil tankers being seized in the Strait of Hormuz will likely increase the insurance premiums on shipping. In addition to seizing ships, Iran has threatened to close the strait.

Concerns also exist that Iranian military forces might hinder passage, or might go so far as mining the strait. Any of these scenarios poses a risk to global oil supply and even the prospect of these actions causes a jump in crude oil prices.

What might happen from here?

Ultimately, Iran shares an interest with the United States and other countries in maintaining navigational rights for commercial shipping. So much is evident in Iran’s own response to the British Royal Navy seizing one of its vessels off Gibraltar.

Given that over 90% of the world’s traded goods are carried by ship, every country has a strong reciprocal interest in ensuring freedom of navigation. Iran is using one of the main political tools it has at its disposal to exert pressure in response to current US policies.

Preventing escalation should be the prime concern of all actors and would be the most mutually beneficial outcome.The Conversation

Natalie Klein, Professor, UNSW

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

Australia to send naval and air assistance to protect Middle East sea lanes: Morrison


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Australia will commit a frigate, an aircraft and some headquarters staff to an American-led freedom of navigation operation in the Middle East.

Scott Morrison, announcing the long-expected commitment at a Canberra news conference on Wednesday, stressed this was an international mission, but so far the United Kingdom is the only other country to have signed up.

Under questioning, the Chief of the Australian Defence Force, General Angus Campbell, said the operation would be United States-led. But Campbell avoided spelling out in detail the rules of engagement in the event of being involved in an incident, other than referring to legal obligations.

Iran has seized ships in recent months, amid escalating tensions.

This week, an Iranian oil tanker was released after being detained by the British overseas territory of Gibraltar on suspicion of taking oil to Syria. The US tried unsuccessfully to have Gibraltar extend the vessel’s detention.

Morrison said Australia had made very clear both to the US and the UK “that we are here as part of a multinational effort”.

“This is a modest, meaningful and time-limited contribution …to this international effort to ensure we maintain free-flow of commerce and of navigation,” he said.

“Australia will defend our interests, wherever they may be under threat, we will always work closely with our international allies and partners.”




Read more:
Morrison looking at details for commitment to protect shipping


Morrison emphasised that the safety of shipping lanes was vital to Australia’s economic interests.

The government had been concerned over incidents in the Strait of Hormuz, he said. “30% of refined oil destined for Australia travels through the Strait. It is a threat to our economy.”

The Australian contribution will be

  • a P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft for one month before the end of 2019;

  • an Australian frigate in January 2020 for six months; and

  • ADF personnel to the International Maritime Security Construct headquarters in Bahrain.

One complication for Australia in finalising the commitment was the fact there was no Australian frigate in the area, with the next deployment not due until January.

Australian ships participate in counter-piracy and counter-terrorism operations in the Middle East.

The Americans were very pressing in their request to Australia to join the force, including in public statements during the recent AUSMIN talks.

Morrison has emphasised Australia wants to see the de-escalation of tensions in the area and separates its commitment to the freedom of navigation operation from America’s other activities in relation to Iran.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.