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Weekend catch-up: Sub secrets, Southeast Asian summits, secretaries-general and more

Weekend catch-up: Sub secrets, Southeast Asian summits, secretaries-general and more
Published 3 Sep 2016 

By John Gooding, Digital Editor at the Lowy Institute and Associate Editor at The Interpreter.

This week, Australia's chosen submarine contractor DCNS brought legal action against an individual in France over the leaking of documents outlining specifications for the Scorpene-class submarine, which India operates. The company also took legal action against the publisher of The Australian to stop the publication of the documents (in redacted form), which succeeded.

Former chief of navy David Shackleton outlined why exactly submariners value information security so highly:

Not knowing a secret has been stolen is potentially a war- or combat-losing situation for those who must rely on the secret being kept. This is the world that submariners live in. If you want to meet truly paranoid people when it comes to keeping secrets, spend some time with submariners…

The $50 billion reported cost of Australia's future submarine program can be considered as the down payment, but the lives of our submariners are priceless, as is the value of our freedom. Our submarine secrets had better be kept safe.

The 2016 G20 leaders' summit will take place on Sunday and Monday in Hangzhou, China. Tristram Sainsbury and Hannah Wurf previewed what will be at stake this year: 

The upcoming G20 leaders' summit will take place in the context of Brexit, contentious US presidential elections, rising anti-globalisation and protectionist sentiments, Turkey's attempted coup, worldwide terror attacks, a potential Italian banking crisis, a rocky Chinese economic transition, and ongoing commodity price uncertainty.

Two days later, the ASEAN Summit and East Asia Summit will take place in Vientiane, Laos. This year will be Obama's final, and it's worth reflecting on the success of his rebalance to Asia, wrote Aaron Connelly:

Under normal circumstances, Laos would be an unlikely destination for an American president in the final months of his term. But Obama's decision to visit Laos is a demonstration of his commitment to his rebalance policy, by which the US under Obama has steadily dedicated greater money, time, and effort to the Asia Pacific.

ASEAN's continuing credibility is critical for Vietnam and Singapore, argued Huong Le Thu: [fold]

Singapore and Vietnam are probably the only members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) who have consistently taken a strategic view of regional security. Now they are determined to advocate for ASEAN's survival.

In other multilateralism news, UN refugee chief António Guterres remained in the lead in the race to be the next UN secretary-general after the third straw poll this week. Sarah Frankel:

Although Guterres came out on top in all three polls, Moscow prefers a candidate from Eastern Europe, and many speculate that one of his 'discourage' votes comes from Russia. As one diplomat at the UN has asserted, 'The real question is whether this discourage vote is tactical, in order to exact a price for Russian agreement, or whether it is substantial and they are saying: we don't want him.'

And John Carlson asked why Australia was so set on opposing a UN nuclear weapon ban:

It seems to be the Australian government's view that nuclear deterrence is essential to international security, that the threat of mutual annihilation saved us from World War III.  This overlooks the frighteningly large number of mistakes and accidents that could easily have led to nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia. We can't assume that good luck will hold forever.

This week President Obama visited Midway Atoll to celebrate the expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument to occupy most of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the coast of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. But are those islands entitled to EEZs? Sam Bateman:

The Northwest Hawaiian Islands stretch about 900 nautical miles from Midway and Kure Atolls to Nihoa Island. Using the precedent established by the recent arbitral ruling, of the ten islands and atolls comprising the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, only three at the most (Midway Atoll, Laysan Island and French Frigate Shoals) would likely be accepted as 'fully entitled' islands. The other features would probably be regarded as 'rocks' entitled only to a 12 nautical mile territorial sea.

Penny Wong, Labor's new shadow foreign minister, argued for Australia entering into a dispute settlement with Timor-Leste over the maritime border:

Australia's unwillingness to commit to maritime border negotiations with Timor-Leste raises valid questions about our commitment to a rules-based international system and to being a good global citizen.

Whether it be our whaling disputes with Japan, international trade disputes with the US and EU, our fight to halt French nuclear testing in the Pacific, or Antarctic claims in the 1980s, Australia encourages others to play by the rules, and we benefit from the rules-based system that incentivises them to do so.

The death of ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani is a blow for the organisation, but is unlikely to be crippling, wrote David Wells:

Adnani's death is significant; reducing the talent available to a terrorist group does affect its capability. But it represents a small victory in a much larger war. The success or failure of the Islamic State project is likely to depend on much bigger geopolitical developments than the fate of individual personnel.

Ian Parmeter analysed the success Russian President Vladimir Putin is reaping from his military intervention in Syria:

Russia has ensured the survival of the Assad regime, its only Arab partner, without loss of Russian personnel to the rebels or becoming mired in a ground conflict. In doing so, it has helped reduce the reach of Islamic State and thus Islamic State's attractiveness to potential jihadists in Russia's Muslim-majority regions.

Last weekend Islam Karimov suffered a severe stroke. His death could lead to instability both in Uzbekistan and in the Central Asian region, wrote Edward Cavanough: 

We don't know much about how an Uzbekistan without Karimov would act, and that uncertainty extends to the future of all the bilateral relationships forged in the last 25 years.

Khalid Koser argued that it is in Australia's interest to take an immediate lead in reforming the international protection regime:

Now that the illegal arrival of boats has stopped, Australia is hardly affected by the failings of the regime. Last year Australia processed less than 1% of the world's asylum applications. It clearly fulfills its international obligations through a generous refugee resettlement program (the third-largest in the world) with one of the world's best-managed migration programs.

But in a Lowy Analysis Paper published earlier this week, I argue that in fact it is in Australia's interest to take a lead in reforming the international protection regime.

This US election cycle is all about the negative, wrote Emma Connors:

Once upon a time, people running for office worked on making people like them. Not anymore, at least not in this presidential campaign. This one is all about making people hate the other side, or, more precisely, making sure those who dislike the other major party's nominee don't stop doing so before election day.

Finally, a possibly artificial signal picked up by a Russian radio telescope sparked the media's collective imagination. Although the signal is unlikely to be alien in origin, the episode did raise questions about what would happen in the event ET one day did call. Morris Jones:

Nobody really knows when or if we will discover evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence, but it would be a major event in human history. It would challenge social, philosophical and spiritual perceptions of the world. It could even provoke civil unrest in some areas. Deciding how to interpret or reply to a transmission would be heavily contested. International relations are complex enough for one world. Complexities would certainly increase if we began to deal with other worlds.

Photo: Commonwealth of Australia/Department of Defense

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