Bringing together the best longer Interpreter articles you were too busy to read this week.

A wide range of topics covered on The Interpreter this week, from cyber security to Confucianism and lots in between. 

Ian Wallace from Brookings wrote on Tuesday that the 'Five Eyes' agreement on signals intelligence-sharing should more fully embrace 'cyber':

The Five Eyes format is particularly well suited to cyber discussions. The great Catch-22 of cyber-related diplomacy is that while everyone acknowledges the importance of international cooperation, there is rarely sufficient trust between countries to enable a meaningful discussion. What could be a better format, therefore, than a partnership between the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand formed specifically to share signals intelligence?

This missed opportunity is especially disappointing for two reasons. First, because despite all the ink expended on cyber topics in recent years, there is still much work to be done on how such capabilities should affect our warfighting doctrines and concepts, let alone what would actually happen in practice during a war.

Properly 'integrating’ cyber within defence planning (the goal set out in this year's Australian Defence White Paper) could take years of experimentation, testing and trial and error. Even with different political and legal frameworks, it makes no sense at all for each of the Five Eyes partners to fail to share each other’s experiences on this path, especially if that in turn can lead to burden-sharing of one sort or another.

Second, and more significantly, it means failing to maximise an important opportunity to use Five Eyes collaboration as the first step towards a more general understanding of what working with allies in a conflict involving cyber capabilities is going to look like. Cyber has the potential to have a profound impact on the character of future conflict, especially for coalition operations, but it is a topic that has yet to receive much attention.

This piece prompted a response from one of our readers, who questioned whether any 'cyberwarfare' actually takes place and who is 'unsure how an actor might actually use the Internet to gain strategic or tactical advantages in the field of war.'

Wallace replied to these comments, agreeing 'that we need to be careful about falsely applying the term "war" to what happens in cyberspace':

My concern, however, is that by focusing on debunking the popular notion of ‘cyberwar’ as a separate, stand-alone phenomenon, there is a risk of drawing attention away from two more practically pressing public policy questions.

The first of these (which I will park for another day) is: how should governments deal with cyber acts that have a national security impact (espionage, sabotage and subversion, if you will) but which fall below the threshold of ‘war’, especially when the perpetrators are based overseas and often beyond the reach of law enforcement?

The second is: how should governments prepare for the fact that whether or not standalone ‘cyberwar’ will happen, cyber capabilities are almost certain to be used alongside more conventional capabilities when wars are fought, possibly as the opening salvo? More specifically, how do they reconcile the fact that modern wars are usually coalition affairs, and yet cyber capabilities are often highly classified and dependent on sensitive ‘eyes only’ intelligence? It is this second dilemma that inspired my original post.

Iranian President Rouhani's trip to New York was a key international story this week, and we had Dina Esfiandiary highlighting some elements of hope in Rouhani's speech to the UN General Assembly:

Rouhani, mindful of domestic audiences, emphasized that Western sanctions are 'unjust' and 'inhumane', condemned the threat of military action against both Syria and Iran, and highlighted Iran’s right to nuclear technology. In doing so, he bought time and clout with the conservatives at home. This put him in a better position to play the political game and negotiate changes in Iranian policy.

But he also called for constructive dialogue to 'resolve problems'. Rouhani outlined what Iran wanted in a potential deal: the recognition of its right to enrich in exchange for 'full' transparency of its program. Note that Supreme Leader Khamenei has given Rouhani a mandate to negotiate on its nuclear program, something Rouhani's predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his team did not have. Tellingly, Obama seemed to agree to a similar formula, saying 'we should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful'.

Rodger Shanahan also wrote about the Iranian President's trip to the US, suggesting that while domestic and US audiences were the key targets for Rouhani's speech, 'there was also a third audience: the Gulf states, who Iran sees as fomenting an anti-Iranian/anti-Shi'a discourse which ensures continued US security support and a policy of containment of Iranian regional ambitions.'

Variously, Rouhani:

  • Differentiated Iran from the Arab monarchies: 'the recent elections in Iran represent...the realisation of democracy consistent with religion' (take that, Saudi Arabia); 'the firm belief of our people...and reliance on the ballot box as the basis of power, public acceptance and legitimacy' (take that, GCC).
  • Criticised Gulf states over their Syria policy ('some regional...actors helped to militarise the situation through infusion of arms...and active support of extremist groups).
  • Staked Tehran's claim for regional leadership ('the Islamic Republic of Iran, as a regional power, will act responsibly with regard to regional and international security...We defend peace based on democracy and the ballot box everywhere, including in Syria, Bahrain and other countries in the region.')

If Rouhani's visit to the US was about choosing which veil to remove for Washington, it would appear that he has been far more revealing as far as the Gulf States are concerned.

We also had an interesting post on Australia's aid cuts by Wayne Swan's Deputy to Chief of Staff, Amanda Robbins (watch this space for a response to this article from World Vision):

More broadly, development policy is not necessarily settled on the idea that more funding equals better development. Focusing aid advocacy largely (though I accept not exclusively) on additional funding ignores the ongoing work that needs to be done to ensure aid is actually effective. This is where the political debate on Australian aid is let down — it’s not just about money, it’s about how it’s used. Convincing people of this with evidence-based policy analysis and evaluation (which I accept the aid sector has attempted to do) will be a critical step to the lasting success of any campaign for a larger aid budget.

Finally, Lowy Institute Melanesia Program Director Jenny Hayward-Jones had a look at corruption in PNG, as a follow-up to ABC's Four Corners exposé on Monday night:

The program suggested that Australia was reluctant to help PNG authorities deal with the problem. Sam Koim, the chair of the PNG Government’s Task Force Sweep, claimed Australia was a safe harbour for the proceeds of crime from Papua New Guinea. Koim had previously raised serious concerns about Australian being the 'Cayman Islands' for Papua New Guineans looking to hide their ill-gotten gainsduring a speech at a conference in Sydney last year.

But are suggestions of Australian complacency about corruption in PNG fair?

The Australian Federal Police has deployed two senior AFP officers to the PNG Fraud and Anti-Corruption Directorate this year. The Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department is working with AUSTRAC to investigate specific allegations about PNG corruption. The Australian Government is working with the PNG Proceeds of Crime Unit in the Public Prosecutor’s Office to assist it to pursue the proceeds of corruption and with the Department of Justice and Attorney General to review the PNG Proceeds of Crime Act.

The perception created by Four Corners’ interviews with Sam Koim and PNG Transparency International Chairman Lawrence Stephens, however, is that Australian authorities are complacent about corruption and uninterested in helping PNG authorities address it. And no Australian officials were available to rebut these claims. They declined to be interviewed on camera by Four Corners but AUSTRAC, the Australian Federal Police and the Attorney General’s Department prepared ajoint statementin response to questions, posted on the ABC website.

Four Corners is beamed into Papua New Guinea at the same time it is broadcast in Australia. The majority of PNG viewers are unlikely to follow up by reading supplementary documents on the website. Leaving viewers with the strong impression that Australian authorities are lax about addressing money laundering or other expenditure of the proceeds of crime in Australia not only hurts Australia’s reputation, it diverts attention from the real issue – the criminal activity that has taken place in PNG.

Other topics covered by The Interpreter this week included:

Photo by Flickr Jon Young UK.