In a surprise move, Myanmar’s ruling military junta announced on 6 September the release from prison of Ashin Wirathu, a controversial Buddhist monk whose sermons have been blamed for inciting anti-Muslim violence over the last decade. In a statement, the military said it had dropped charges against Wirathu of sedition directed towards the previous Aung San Suu Kyi-led government.
There is an old saying that if you find yourself in a hole, the best course of action is to stop digging. If only Australia understood this wisdom. Abandoning the French submarine project, the government has decided to double down and design a new nuclear-powered sub with technology and assistance from the United States and the United Kingdom. To continue the homespun metaphors, Australia has decided to go from the frying pan into the fire.
Much is made of Iran’s use of proxy or allied groups to exert “hard power” influence throughout the Middle East where Tehran believes its interests are under threat (Lebanon), or sees an opportunity to exert greater influence (Syria, Iraq), or to act as a spoiler (Yemen). But far less is made of its use of “power”, of the energy kind, exemplified in its use of its energy exports to take advantage of regional states’ inability to cater for their own domestic requirements.
In Australia, over the last few weeks, international headlines have focused on the United States, between the problematic withdrawal from Afghanistan, the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty, the 20 years since 9/11, and the AUSMIN meeting this week.
So readers could be forgiving for overlooking a snippet of news that South Korea and Australia are preparing to update a joint defence agreement, with the aim of announcing a new deal in October. This should be a key topic for the 2+2 meeting in Seoul this week as Marise Payne and Peter Dutton make their global tour taking in Indonesia, India, South Korea and the United States.
National security thinkers follow a distinct pattern when they consider Australia’s future defence requirements. For most, the preferred point of view is risk-based. A policy response is framed in military-diplomatic terms, generally a proposal for increased capability and support for the ANZUS alliance. However, such an approach downplays other potential threat offsets, namely non-risk based opportunities.
Indonesia is feeling a little ignored. The recent visit by US Vice President Kamal Harris to Vietnam and Singapore led to speculation that Indonesia was not a priority for the Biden administration. “Snubbed again, Joe?” read one local headline. A few weeks beforehand, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin had also left Indonesia off his itinerary during a trip to Southeast Asia.
The 9/11 attacks – four separate coordinated strikes by al-Qaeda using passenger planes as weapons of mass destruction – were the deadliest and most consequential terrorist events in history. The attacks on the World Trade Centre towers and the Pentagon and the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania killed almost 3000 people and injured thousands more. The acts not only shattered the United States’ sense of security, but profoundly shaped global affairs in the succeeding two decades.
“If you want peace, prepare for war.” The idea that states can avoid war by strengthening their military is attractively simple, and the advice, attributed to Roman author Vegetius, has proved enduringly popular. In modern strategic lingo, it’s embodied in the buzz word “deterrence”.
Outlining the Biden administration’s approach to China, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in March that the United States would be “competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, and adversarial when it must be”. Climate change looked like an obvious vector for bilateral collaboration. In mid-April, “climate tsar” John Kerry became the first senior Biden administration official to visit China, releasing a joint statement on climate change with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua.