Wednesday 12 Dec 2018 | 05:01 | SYDNEY
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Defence & Security

The strategic order and the nature of conflict are changing. Security competition between nations and military strategy are growing in complexity even as new transnational challenges deepen. The Lowy Institute’s experts in security and defence look at changing strategic relations, security architecture, nuclear strategy, military capabilities and defence and intelligence policy.

US killing by drone: continuity and escalation

Recent revelations confirm that under President Donald Trump, the use of armed unmanned aerial systems, drones, in US combat operations has increased significantly. For example, in 2017–18, the Trump administration launched 238 drone strikes on Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan, according to data from

Why denuclearisation is less important for South Korea

One of the most commented upon elements of this year’s outreach effort toward North Korea is the possible drift in the US-South Korean alliance. It has been widely noted that the US is tightly focused on nuclear weapons and missiles, seeking a narrow arms control deal. The US would clearly be

Review: lessons for Australia and Britain from Iraq War

Book review: Blunder: Britain’s War in Iraq, by Patrick Porter (Oxford University Press, November 2018). Clausewitz famously pointed out that war is a continuation of politics or policy by other means. Hannah Arendt wrote that “policy is the realm of unintended consequences”. Patrick

Combat drones: Australia’s uncertain future

Defence Minister Christopher Pyne’s announcement last week that Australia is buying 12 to 16 new MQ-9 Reaper drones that can fire air-to-ground missiles gets the Australian Defence Force into a capability niche that other modern armed forces, particularly the US, joined years ago

It’s time to fill Asia’s arms control void

Asia urgently needs new diplomatic initiatives aimed at reducing nuclear dangers and preventing arms racing in the region. There’s a glaring gap between the ambitious disarmament goals set out in the relevant global treaties – the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), and the

Bourke Street: debating terrorism

The violence in Melbourne’s Bourke Street last Friday is still being investigated as a terrorist incident and, as with all terrorist incidents, the media and public are rightly eager for information. While the authorities have been as open as they can be, this early in the process there

Marginalising female combatants after conflict

Australia recently took the final step towards removing any barriers for women serving in combat positions in the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Last month, the Civil Law and Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 passed the parliament, removing barriers preventing women engaging in ADF combat

Xinjiang: outrage is not a policy

If the outrage about China’s forced re-education camps serves to do anything, it will be to again demonstrate that we have very short memories. Worse than being simply misguided, our outrage risks being ineffective.In Myanmar, despite all the warning signs which myself and many colleagues

The Australian Army’s drone air force

The first Military International Drone Racing Tournament was just held in Sydney, featuring competitors from across the world, and the Australian Army team did very well. This shouldn’t surprise. The Army has declared that it will soon “be the most unmanned [air vehicle] army in the world

“Would you like thanks with that?”

I think we are in danger of reaching “peak veteran”. Former defence minister and Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson has called for people to publicly thank the military and veterans community and their families for their service, a campaign backed by News Corporation along with

Trump scores a win over Russia

Typically, Vladimir Putin answered Washington’s decision this month to leave the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty by making new nuclear threats against Europe. His posturing underscored why this was the right decision. Better known as the INF Treaty, this agreement was signed in 1987

Chinese whispers and Pacific agency

Over the past year, Pacific specialists have been caught between bemusement, frustration, and deepening concern as elements within the strategic community in Australia and the United States have sought to shape the regional security narrative to reflect their growing anxiety about Chinese influence

Beware of fighter pilots bearing gifts

In late September, an interesting news story populated some portions of the internet. A person purporting to be a (possibly retired) Russian fighter pilot flying one of Moscow’s most modern jets, a Su-35, claimed to have engaged in (and won) a mock air-combat against America’s premier fighter

Realigning the Australian Army

The Australian Army is spending up big, announcing a $5.2bn contract for more than 200 Boxers (armoured reconnaissance vehicles from Rheinmetall, as opposed to Boxster of the Porsche variety), while also releasing a tender for another 450 even bigger and better armoured personnel carriers. While

Mind the gap: views of security in the Pacific

As an onlooker at the intensifying debate about security in the Pacific islands, I see the danger of a widening paradigm gap between how Australia’s strategic community perceives the region, and how security is conceived by islanders themselves, as well as scholars of the region. Two distinct

Missing in action: India’s aircraft carriers

Long considered the crowning jewel of the fleet, India has continuously operated an aircraft carrier for well over half-a-century. Since 1961, when its first carrier entered service, India has gone to war with Portugal (1961), China (1962), and Pakistan (1965, 1971, and 1999). How is it then, that

Not (yet?) a European Army

The headline “Armed force of 10,000 to patrol borders” recently featured from the European Union about Frontex is not quite what it appears to be. It does not herald the nucleus of an European Army, but then again, the EII might. Confused? You are not the only one “lost in EU

The nuclear weapons ban treaty, one year on

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (the ban treaty) was opened for signature on 20 September 2017. The treaty will enter into force when ratified by 50 countries – currently it has 19 ratifications. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was a major influence

EU and Iran push back against US sanctions

Europe has fired a shot across the bow of USS Trump in its joint press conference held yesterday with the Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif at the UN. The announcement that Europe would set up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to facilitate European trade with Iran in accordance with EU law, with the

China’s arms trade: a rival for global influence? 

Against the backdrop of the recent China-Africa Defence and Security Forum, numerous articles have been written questioning the rationale behind the conference and the potential ramifications of a closer Sino-African relationship. The fall in export of Russian made weapons to Africa

How Taiwan deters China – and can do better yet

Against the backdrop of China’s rise as a military power, Taiwan’s defence is often portrayed as a lost cause. However, the Lowy Institute’s Asia Power Index (API) offers insight into why Taiwan continues to deter annexation by China, against seemingly overwhelming odds. The

India’s navy: between carriers and patrol boats

Last month, the Indian Navy conducted the largest ever disaster relief and rescue operation under its Southern Naval Command, part of an effort to rescue thousands of people affected by the devastating floods that ravaged the coastal state of Kerala. Known as Operation Madad, the navy led a

Japan is back in the Bay of Bengal

The eastern Indian Ocean has become contested waters. The competition for position between China, India and the US is becoming ever more pronounced. But some recent developments indicate that Japan also intends to become an important security player in the region. Japan is back in the Bay of Bengal

Bring Australia’s Navy home from the Middle East

Last Wednesday, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) frigate HMAS Warramunga docked at Garden Island, ending a nine-month deployment to the western Indian Ocean. It was the 66th deployment of an Australian warship to the Middle East region, part of an almost continuous Australian

Managing the release of convicted terrorists

It has been nearly two decades since the Council of Australian Governments agreed to a national framework to combat terrorism. Now, in the long shadow of the September 11 attacks, some of Australia’s convicted terrorists are nearing the completion of their custodial sentences. From 2019 onwards,

Indo-Pacific: are the British coming back?

The British Royal Navy looks set to make a significant reappearance in the Indo-Pacific after the long distraction of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Australian decision to buy nine BAE Systems Type 26 ASW frigates is the latest in a flurry of indications suggesting the UK has an increased

Turkey must be thinking of the Bomb

Actors not invested in the Western liberal order are enjoying a period of resurgence. While analysts chase meaning in US President Donald Trump’s many erratic policies, there are some threads of consistency, including his affection for strongmen and his scepticism about the existing economic

High anxiety: Donald Trump’s summits

US President Donald Trump evidently expects his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin to be the easiest of his upcoming high-level meetings. If so, he has brought that condition upon himself. Trump’s choleric, ignorant, menacing, and, to be honest, strategically illiterate ramblings about

China’s expanding navy

Recent reports of problems with the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA-N) carrier-borne J-15 jet fighters have opened a small window on challenges facing China’s expanding navy, presenting a narrative counter to the recent wave of triumphalist advertisements of new capabilities. Stresses on

Burdens and threats at NATO summit

US President Donald Trump’s incessant complaints about sharing the burden of defence spending between NATO allies would be the main worry on many European leaders’ minds as they meet over the next two days in Brussels. Yet these leaders would wish to achieve more than burden sharing – a long

Mai Tai diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific

It’s Mai Tai time again for many of the world’s navies and some air forces. The month-long, biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise is underway off the Hawaiian Islands once more. RIMPAC has been a constant since 1971, but the exercise has evolved, reflecting changing times and tensions,

The “unsinkable” island is no substitute

In a recent Interpreter article (Glug, glug, glug: India’s interest in unsinkable aircraft carriers), David Brewster poses an interesting question: is there a cheaper and less risky way for India to project power in the neighborhood than by continuing to rely on its aircraft carriers? By

Mindful Mattis did just fine at the Shangri-La Dialogue

The theme of geopolitical competition which ran through the 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue was appropriately expansive for the debut of the US Indo-Pacific strategy as outlined by US Defense Secretary James Mattis. Given that Singapore will host the Trump–Kim meeting in just over a week

Has the PLA really overlooked its amphibious force?

It might surprise the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to learn they’ve short-changed themselves on amphibious capability. Sam Roggeveen wrote on The Interpreter recently (“Why China isn’t planning to storm Taiwan’s beaches”) that “China’s navy has grown dramatically over the past two

US naval accidents revisited

The US Navy is usually acknowledged as the biggest and best navy in the world. It is by far the biggest, and the best in terms of the hardware of naval warfare, although that position is now being challenged by China in some dimensions, such as missile technology and a

Surabaya and the ISIS family

Indonesia has again exploded in a paroxysm of terrorist violence, but with a new twist: family suicide bombers. This may be the first time in the world that parents took their children on a family outing to blow themselves up. The three families included the six killed in the bombings of

China’s first homebuilt carrier sails: so what?

For weeks now, the online community that follows Chinese military affairs has speculated about photos indicating China’s first homebuilt aircraft carrier, known for the moment as the Type-001A, would sail for the first time. The carrier looked finished, cleaning crews appeared to be making

Iran’s May Day

The deadline looms for the Iran nuclear deal. US President Donald Trump will have to decide by 12 May whether to continue to waive sanctions against Iran under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). What Trump will do is unclear, and his intention was clouded even more by

The taming of the west

Australia’s adoption of the “Indo-Pacific” as a way of seeing its neighbourhood is a welcome change. The term reflects a broader perspective that moves away from an overwhelming focus on the Pacific to include much of the Indian Ocean – a region where many of Australia’s future

Australia’s Chinese ballistic missile problem

Late last year in Australia, there was sudden interest shown in ballistic missile defence (BMD). Although the driver was North Korea’s missile testing, the real issue is China. China’s latest ballistic missiles, combined with its new island bases, are steadily undercutting Australia’s

Australian warships challenged in South China Sea

How should we react to news reports that China challenged Australian warships in the course of transiting the South China Sea, on their way from Subic Bay in the Philippines to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam? Without knowing where the challenge occurred (was it inside 12 nautical miles of a

Drones level the battlefield for extremists

In early 2016, I contributed to an Armament Research Services (ARES) report on the use of commercially available drones by non-state actors in contemporary conflicts, including in Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine. We predicted that the use of commercial drones, which up until that point had been used

A new high: India–Japan defence links

An unexpected partnership was forged last week at India’s defence exhibition, DefExpo 2018, in Chennai. For some time, India has been in negotiations with Japan to purchase more than a dozen US-2 amphibious aircraft for the Indian Navy and Coast Guard. Considered the world’s best amphibious

Getting our maritime security effort right

Australia does not have a coast guard, but does guard its coasts. It has achieved this since 2005 by using the inter-agency operational authority now known as the Maritime Border Command. This authority combines assets from Defence and what is now the Australian Border Force (ABF) under a

The many questions about China’s Vanuatu ambition

What to make of the extraordinary story in Australia’s Fairfax newspapers on Tuesday about reported discussions between China and Vanuatu that could allow the People’s Liberation Army to establish a presence in the South Pacific nation? If true, there would be significant cause for

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