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Tuesday 11 Dec 2018 | 17:19 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 11 Dec 2018 | 17:19 | SYDNEY

Weekend catch-up: Russia's military might, ethics and drones, PNG budget and more



14 November 2015 08:00

Throughout this week, an interesting debate has sprung up on The Interpreter regarding armed drones. It started with a piece from Jennifer Hunt on the US State Department's decision to authorise the sale of armed drones to Italy. James Brown responded that the proliferation of armed drones is in fact far more widespread than commonly thought and that our ethics are not keeping up:

In Senate Estimates testimony in April, defence officials addressed the implications of wider and more active use of weaponised remotely piloted aircraft. Jennifer Hunt is right to draw attention to Micah Zenko's excellent work on the problems associated with the use of drones; his 2010 book on discrete military operations remains the best analysis of the moral hazards of the use of remote weaponry. One of his surprising findings is that civilian national security officials are more entranced with this technology than uniformed military, and have a higher appetite to use drone strikes.

To the countries already using armed drones that Jennifer listed, add another name: Iraq...

...All of this means increased proliferation of armed drones is not merely a risk, it's already happening. So embedding ethics into organisations that use them is a pressing concern, one made even more pressing given that military forces are already migrating weapons systems from remotely controlled to lethally autonomous.

Sam Roggeveen pitched into the debate with a cheeky post on automation in war and puppies:

Moreover, it's important to recognise that automation will not allow robots to make life and death decisions, because robots can't really make decisions at all. They are merely programmed, by humans, and if we program them to fire a missile at a target at some future time, that simply means we have moved the human decision-point forward. The current generation of drones moves the human decision maker away from the battlefield geographically; the next generation will also take them away from the battlefield chronologically. But either way, it is still a human decision, and if war crimes are committed, those who operate and even those who program these killer robots ought to be liable, because they are the ultimate decision-makers...

...The 'moral hazard' argument effectively says that nations ought to make themselves as vulnerable as possible because this encourages them to tread so carefully on the world stage that they will not provoke wars. It's the equivalent of asking drivers to strap puppies to their bumper-bars in order to discourage reckless driving.

As the tallying of results for Myanmar's national election continued, Sebastian Strangio wrote on what appears to be a NLD victory:

On Election Day, November 8, crowds of NLD supporters cheered and danced in the street outside the party’s Yangon headquarters, draped in the party’s red insignia, as the first tentative results were beamed up on a giant screen. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the party’s charismatic leader initially called for patience as the official results were tallied. Two days later, the 70-year-old Nobel laureate told the BBC she believed her party has won a parliamentary majority.

As of publication, the official count by the Union Election Commission gave the NLD 350 of 430 seats declared across the Union Parliament and regional legislatures; more than 80%. The USDP had won just 29, with the remainder going to smaller parties. If current trends hold, the NLD will win more than enough seats to form government and elect the country’s next president. It looms as an overwhelming and decisive repudiation of military rule.

The Russian intervention in Syria has only strengthened Iran's position there, says Rodger Shanahan:

The world can no longer publicly deal Tehran out of the Syrian solution; at the same time dealing it in is unlikely to alter Iran’s Syrian policy. Tehran has always held a strong hand in Syria; the Russian intervention and regional acknowledgment of Iranian interests in Syria have both made it stronger. 

And Russia has also used the opportunity to demonstrate the significant improvements it has made in military capability, Dmitry Gorenburg wrote:

A similar calculus was evident in the land-attack cruise missile strikes against Syrian targets launched from relatively small missile ships in the Caspian Sea, which were primarily intended as a demonstration of this capability to potential opponents. They were not necessary for the success of the operation, which could have been carried out perfectly well by Russian aircraft already present in Syria. The real goal was to show military planners in NATO member states and Russia's other neighbours that Russia could threaten targets in their countries from ships that could not easily be destroyed by enemy forces.

Euan Graham delved into the specifics of the US freedom of navigation exercise in the South China Sea,

Stepping back from the migraine-inducing minutiae of passage regimes and maritime claims, what are we to make of this ever-thickening legal tangle? The first lesson from the convoluted ex post facto explanations being marshalled in the US to justify the Lassen's circumscribed FONOP last month is that, where the South China Sea is concerned, the devil lurks unexpectedly in the details. The aim of encouraging China and others to clarify their claims in conformity with UNCLOS is hard to argue against, but, in such a complex setting, clarity brings unpredictable consequences, as the messy post-mortem from the Lassen's passage is making clear.

Also Sam Bateman thinks that Australia should assess what it's broader strategic interests are in the South China Sea:

Australia has a clear strategic interest in the situation in the South China Sea not deteriorating further, but our interests lie in the broader political and economic stability of the region, not in the details of sovereignty claims and the right to conduct military activities. At this stage, the potential costs of Australia initiating its own FONOPs in the South China outweigh any possible benefits.

We need to tread carefully. If we are unhappy with what China is doing in the South China Sea, then formal diplomatic protests rather than military actions are the most appropriate response.

Stephen Grenville on how the TPP is aimed at China's currency manipulation:

The TPP draft contains other provisions that will make China feel unwelcome. It requires each TPP member to 'foster an exchange rate system that reflects underlying economic fundamentals,' 'avoid persistent exchange rate misalignments' and 'refrain from competitive devaluation.' Two veterans of the Peterson Institute, Fred Bergsten and Jeffrey Schott, applaud this revival of the hoary old canard of 'currency manipulation', aimed at China. They say it 'should strengthen the US Treasury Department's ability to deter currency manipulation by our trading partners, including future members of the TPP'. Other countries are mentioned, but China is the clear target.

As the investigation into the Russian passenger plane crash in the Sinai at the beginning of the month evolves, Casper Wuite wrote on how the incident will test relations between the West and Egypt:

As other analysts have argued, if ISIS is responsible for the downing of this plane it would mean a significant escalation of its operational capabilities. Until now, it has relied on high-profile lone wolf attacks. If ISIS has managed to turned one of its affiliates into an operational arm that has targeted Russia over its involvement in Syria, the increased regionalisation of a local conflict has entered a new and dangerous phase.

Jonathan Pryke reported on PNG's budget:

Finally, and in many ways most importantly, very little mention was made in the 2016 budget about how the government will respond to what could be the worst drought in the nation's history.  At the budget lock-up, much attention was given to the impact the drought has had on government revenue, and it was mentioned that 220 million Kina (roughly A$110m) would be allocated to drought relief through provincial expenditure. There was, however, no explicit mention of the coordinated national level response that will be required, regardless of what international assistance is inevitably provided. It was noteworthy that APEC 2018 garnered more attention in the budget documents.

UNESCO has found itself on the front lines in the fight against ISIS, says Annmaree O’Keeffe:

The inseparable twin of UNESCO's role in fighting extremism through education is the international recognition of its role in combating the destruction of cultural heritage by ISIS, al-Nusra Front and others associated with al Qaeda. This was confirmed earlier this year when the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning the destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria, particularly by ISIS and the al-Nusra Front. It was decided that all member states should co-operate with Interpol and UNESCO to address this destruction. 

Emma Connors continues her coverage of the US primaries, with a focus this week on the rise of Ben Carson and his relationship with the media:

All of this is particularly intriguing because Carson, famously a political neophyte, doesn't approach media like a politician. He's put many reporters off balance by appealing to what he seems to figure are their better selves. Recently for instance, he called on the media to recognise the role they should play in helping to restore the American dream.

It's an attitude that appears to resonate with a good chunk of voters. Journalists, of course, don't like it; most prefer to cover the story, not become it. It will interesting to watch how this particular battle of wills evolves.

Jackson Kwok and Marie-Alice McLean-Dreyfus with a wrap-up of both Taiwan and China's media reactions to the historic meeting between the countries presidents:

China's online community was generally positive about the meeting, with many netizens commenting they began to weep when the two leaders shook hands. Online support for the meeting was even the subject of a People's Daily article published on Saturday.

Taiwan's online community was less enthusiastic, with many citizens taking to Facebook to express their anger. However, the majority of comments expressed a belief in the robustness of Taiwan's democratic processes. Many users wrote they were looking forward to the presidential and parliamentary elections in January when they will finally be able to express their opinion via ballot paper.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Airman Magazine.

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