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Pacific island links: Sean Dorney, Fiji elections, West Papua, Gold Ridge mine and more

by Tess Newton Cain

A selection of news, analysis and commentary from and about the Pacific island region.

  • Nominations for Fiji's general elections closed on 18 August. Twelve of the received nominations were rejected by the Fiji Electoral Authority, including that of Mahendra Chaudhry, leader of the Fiji Labour Party. Of the 249 accepted nominations, 41 are women. Fiji First was the only party to have all of its nominated candidates accepted; a number of these have since been challenged by the People's Democratic Party (PDP).
  • The future of the Gold Ridge mine in Solomon Islands looks increasingly uncertain. Further to suspension of operations and a massive reduction in the workforce, a deterioration in law and order in the area has resulted in the evacuation of all non-local staff.
  • Jope Tarai reflects on incidents of intimidation by Fijian authorities against those who support the cause of West Papuan independence. Meanwhile, in West Papua, the detention by Indonesian authorities of two French journalists is part of a decades-old policy of restricting international coverage of what happens in the province.
  • The IMF's quarterly 'Asia and Pacific Small States Monitor' is out, with a special focus on the impacts of climate change.
  • The Micronesia Challenge is a conservation initiative of five Micronesian countries. It has been awarded a Pacific Oceanscape Leadership award in recognition of its innovative and influential approach.
  • Ben Bohane highlights some key messages arising from a recent workshop that examined regional security issues.
  • Sean Dorney is leaving the ABC after 40 years of reporting on and from the Pacific. In 2012 he was awarded the inaugural Media Award from the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) in recognition of his work. This is the speech he gave on receiving that award:



INS Arihant revealed

by Sam Roggeveen

As we begin the second round of our debate on sea-based nuclear weapons in the Indo-Pacific, here is the first clear image of the INS Arihant, India's first indigenous nuclear-powered submarine, to be armed with either a dozen 750km-range nuclear tipped ballistic missiles or four larger missiles with 3500km range. The image above is a still from a news report by India's NDTV, which broke the story yesterday.

An earlier image gave very little away, whereas in this shot we can clearly see the distinctive 'hump' aft of the sail, where the ballistic missiles will be housed. I'm no naval architect, but the sail looks to be of a rather dated design, reminiscent of the Soviet-era Kilo-class submarines the Indian Navy already operates. That's not too surprising, since Arihant has been in development since 1998. On the other hand, the designers seem to have done a much better job of integrating the missile hump with the hull than has China with its Type 094.

As our debate on sea-based nuclear weapons has already shown, the performance of the submarine is critical for strategic stability in the region. If the ship is noisy and easy to track, it will not give India the guaranteed second-strike capability it wants in order to dissuade an adversary from mounting a surprise attack. And of the ship is armed only with relatively short-range weapons such as the 750km K-15 missile, it would need to operate dangerously close to an adversary's home waters, thus making the ship vulnerable and destabilising. The longer-range K-4 missile has been tested from an undersea platform but is years from being operationally deployed on Arihant and her eventual sister-ships.


Even noisy submarines can be stabilising

by Rod Lyon

Having read the initial round of contributions to this debate, I must say I'm not a believer in the idea that sea-based nuclear weapons are destabilising. In large part, that's because I'm finding it difficult to construct a scenario in which a senior defence adviser ever uses the sentence, 'Mr President, we have to attack now, they have sea-based nuclear weapons.' True, the future is an unwritten page so it's impossible to say with certainty that such a sentence will never be uttered. But on any rational calculation of probabilities, I know which way I would bet.

Does that mean we can look with equanimity at the forthcoming deployment of nuclear weapons at sea by Asian nuclear powers? Well, not entirely. It's true that some force structures are more destabilising than others. In particular, deployment of vulnerable high-value targets doesn't contribute to good crisis stability. So if Asian powers were to deploy large warhead numbers in vulnerable, noisy SSBNs, they'd have to anticipate losing at least some of those boats early in a conflict. Still, even vulnerable SSBNs might have value if deployed in protected bastions, behind layered defensive screens, exploiting known seabed topographies, confusing the targeteer with diversionary noisemakers, and keeping the warhead loadings low per boat. Quiet SSBNs would have value without that supporting architecture.

Deployment of nuclear weapons at sea doesn't guarantee invulnerability. But the development should typically be seen as positive in relation to Asia's current monopedal force structures. No Asian power has a strong 'air-breathing' strategic leg. They're mainly just land-based forces. Having a sea-based leg is something of a safeguard against technological surprise.

Moreover, I think there are important political gains to be derived from sea-based systems, and those might be more important than the strategic and technological ones. First, such systems suggest a commitment to a durable, resilient nuclear force. They suggest that resort to nuclear weapons needn't be — and won't be — a rushed decision. Second, they devalue the benefits to an adversary of a bolt-from-the-blue attack upon the land-based component of the force, usually sited in relatively static target sets. Third, because they make such an attack upon the land-based systems less likely, they help reassure the population of the nuclear weapon state that they aren't mere nuclear cannon fodder, and thus help sustain political support for the arsenal.

Finally, I'd make one simple observation: if Asia's nuclear-armed countries want to build and deploy sea-based nuclear weapons, who's going to stop them? Nations typically have the right to get their own defence procurement decisions wrong. And in this case it's far from evident that decisions to deploy nuclear weapons at sea would be wrong.

Photo by Wikipedia.


Why is violence spiking in China's northwest?

by Vaughan Winterbottom

Clive Palmer says the Chinese government shoots its own people. If he's talking about Xinjiang, he's right. 

Last month saw the deadliest violence in years in the autonomous region, which has a sizeable Uyghur Muslim population. A knife attack in Yarkand on July 28 saw 100 deaths, including a whopping '59 terrorists' shot by security forces. A separate incident near Hotan on August 1 involved 30,000 locals teaming up with security forces to trap and kill nine terrorists, according to state media. 

There are reasons to be suspicious of official accounts, but there's no denying the security situation in Xinjiang has deteriorated. On Sunday the People's Daily reported drones were to be deployed in the region. 

Some great pieces have been filed from Xinjiang over the past month (here, and here), while Getty photographer Kevin Frayer supplied some stunning photography on a recent Ramadan trip. 

A lot of the reporting has highlighted Beijing's oppressive religious and security policies towards Uyghurs. But these have been in place for years, and Beijing is currently engaged in an unprecedented effort to raise living standards ad generate 'social cohesion' in the region. Xinjiang's hard-line Party boss Wang Lequan was kicked out of his post following mass rioting in July 2009, and his successors in regional policy, Zhang Chunxian and Yu Zhengsheng, initially signaled a softer approach. 

So why is violence spiking? I spoke with some of the foremost experts on Xinjiang to find out. Below are highlights.

Henryk Szadziewski, a senior research at the Uyghur Human Rights Project, discussed recent policy and personnel changes:

It's a good idea to look at the unrest from a broader chronological perspective. Uyghur grievances with the Chinese state stretch further back than the recent uptick in violence. Wang Lequan was known for dealing harshly with Uyghur expression of dissent. Post-2009, the appointment of his successor Zhang Chunxian was supposed to bring a 'softer' approach to governance in Xinjiang.

Given the policies we see in effect today, it's hard to distinguish this 'softer' approach. Xi Jinping's announcement earlier this year that security policies would be emphasized over development was viewed as a palliative to unrest. Although the Second Xinjiang Central Work Forum this year proposed some measurable goals in addressing economic disparity between minorities and Han Chinese, especially in terms of reducing unemployment, the systematic and ingrained social discrimination faced by Uyghurs remains. As with many economic policies in the past, these goals have been imposed from above with little agency in decision making from Xinjiang residents.

Reza Hasmath, a lecturer in Chinese politics at the University of Oxford, said socioeconomic disparities and lack of institutional access for Uyghurs were at the heart of discontent. He also saw significance in this year's Xinjiang Central Work Forum: 

The work forum outlined what I think can be construed as a moderate option to deal with the spread of radical Uyghurs: namely, to boost employment and income levels among Uyghurs. The problem at hand, however, is the manner in which the state actually attempts to do this. The work forum proposed increased fiscal transfers. This does not necessarily increase the odds of Uyghurs obtaining high status/high wage jobs. Moreover, the forum's recommendations to increase urbanization and inter-regional migration, while a good step in principle, often means more Han migration into urban Xinjiang rather than ethnic minority migration.

Finally, the last major recommendation (of the work forum) to 'strengthen state education,' while important, can have a moot effect given that Uyghurs have difficulties obtaining good jobs in spite of having high education. In short, a moderate option does exist for the state. The problem is that it is often not executed in a manner that will yield tangible results. 

James Leibold, a Xinjiang expert at Latrobe University currently based in Beijing, says the Government is increasing its micro-management of locals' lives: 

Under Xi Jinping, the Chinese Party-state has doubled down on Xinjiang, increasing its penetration into nearly every aspect of Xinjiang society: quadrupling the regional public security budget since 2009; sending thousands of high-level cadres down to live alongside local villagers and community members in small groups; re-doubling efforts to urbanise and industrialise southern Xinjiang; and regulating the daily activities of Xinjiang's Uyghur minorities from the length of their facial hair to what sort of religious activities are 'legal.'

As Li Xiaoxia, deputy director of the Xinjiang Social Science Academy recently wrote, and I quote loosely here: "As the scope of religious extremism expands, the government's management of religious affairs must be further strengthened, become more detailed and penetrate into more areas of Muslim social life, so that it touches on every aspect of daily life, such as clothing, food, housing, marriage and deaths."

Finally, Michael Clarke, a research fellow at Griffith Asia Institute, discussed the issue of radicalisation: 

Most of the violence until recently has been the result of the state's heavy-handed approach to Xinjiang and the Uyghurs. However, the violence that we have seen in the past six to 12 months, I think, suggests that there is evidence of some level of radicalisation. The March attack in Kunming, the bombings in Urumqi in April and May, and the latest incident in Yarkand point to a certain level of premeditation and planning that we have generally not seen before. 

Chinese claims that groups such as the East Turkestan Islamic Party are to blame for these events are difficult to verify. Overall I think that the strategy or tactics of the more recent attacks in Xinjiang point at least to some Uyghurs looking to the example of regional (ie. Central and South Asian) and global Islamist groups for inspiration. In this context, though, I would argue that state policy has played a facilitating role. Through its systematic repression of Uyghur dissent — including of modern and secular Uyghurs — it seems inevitable that elements within the Uyghur population will turn to violence.

Photo courtesy of REUTERS?David Gray.


Do we still need a new Defence White Paper?

by Peter Layton

The need for a new Defence White Paper is fast diminishing. The Government has been busy making big decisions that will shape Defence and the ADF force structure for decades to come. 

The latest budget papers set out the steps by which the 2% of GDP funding target will be met. The Air Force's future force structure has been finalised with decisions on buying lots of Joint Strike Fighters and some P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft and Global Hawk surveillance drones (and perhaps more C-17 cargo planes and KC-30 aerial tankers). The Navy's future fleet seems set with new tankers, new patrol boats, an aviation support ship, a $78 million study that effectively locks in a particular eight-ship future frigate solution and the slipping of the Collins submarine replacement. Meanwhile, Army's flagship project, Land400 (Land Combat Vehicle System), is well advanced with tenders expect to be released before year's end. 

With little left to discuss about budgets and force structure, the Defence White Paper process now seems to be moving towards becoming efficiency-focused. The two main areas of interest in this are a long-term set-in-concrete shipbuilding plan and a First Principles Review into how to expedite acquisition and sustainment decisions. The new emphasis on these two important but narrow issues reveals the shift underway from a true Defence White Paper to what is steadily becoming a Defence Efficiency Review.

So a new Defence White Paper now seems redundant, except as a compiled listing of recent announcements. But the missing element in all this is strategy. A word search for 'strategy' in the public consultation Defence Issues Paper finds the word only four times in the 65-page document.

In simple terms, strategy is the way that the force structure (the means) is used to achieve desired objectives (the ends). But making strategy is intellectually difficult, and not as much fun as buying new jets, ships and tanks! Devising the ends, and the ways to achieve those ends, is not easy. Giving advice to busy, harassed policymakers on how to develop strategy can be contradictory and confusing

Even so, it is worth the effort. Good strategy can magnify the effectiveness of a nation's military power. Moreover, efficiency processes are best based around a strategy. The Army, for instance, wants to be quickly adaptable to new and emerging circumstances. This objective might be incompatible with the push for a stable, unwavering acquisition plan that industry can 'bank' on for the next two decades or so. In the absence of a strategy, incoherence is a constant danger.

A new Defence White Paper may still be useful if it sets out a defence strategy, but if not, it is arguably becoming unnecessary. Without strategy, the new Defence White Paper might be better and more accurately reconceived as a Defence Efficiency Review.

Image courtesy of the Department of Defence.


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