The end of hegemony confounds the realists: the US must come to terms with its loss

Elbridge Colby and Robert D. Kaplan’s recent article in Foreign Affairs is an important addition to the framing of the contest between China and the United States. They point to the very real risks of seeing the relationship as an ideological struggle. But their analysis leaves key questions unanswered, and ultimately misses the need for the United States to accommodate a China that will be its equal militarily and economically.

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The power of repetition: six persistent myths about China-Africa relations

An inconvenient truth often ignored or denied is that Chinese economic activities on the African continent are not worse than (and often not even as bad as) US or European activities in Africa. Clingendael Research Associate Sanne van der Lugt presents six persistent myths about China-Africa relations based on her own research experiences.

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The UN at 75: a real declaration of intent, or multilateral virtue signalling?

An atmosphere of unreality is building in advance of the virtual meeting of world leaders on 21 September 2020 to mark the 75th anniversary of the United Nations (UN). Nothing demonstrates this more than the proposed draft declaration. Rather than reaffirming the UN’s centrality, the draft declaration’s faux earnestness jars amid the current international reality. Additionally, it ignores the biggest challenge to multilateralism.

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Strategic mirror: Pentagon’s China report reveals converging power and strategy

The Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on military and security developments in China describes an already formidable military capability, and China’s intention that its military strength will achieve parity with the US by 2049. Ironically, the report unintentionally reveals that China’s major strategic objectives mirror those of the US, past and present. Additionally, the report provides evidence that Australia’s increasing investment in Defence is no substitute for diplomacy.

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Out of shape: Australia’s lack of strategic influence

It seems clear from recent surveys that the Australian government is overestimating its influence in ‘the immediate region’ and underestimating the capacity of the ASEAN states, in particular, to recognise their own strategic interests. The strategic objectives set out in the 2020 Defence Strategic Update rest on the assumptions that Australia will be able to ‘shape’ strategic perceptions in the region, and that this can best be done while acting in close association with the US. Are the foundations of Australia’s strategic logic sound?

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A bigger canvas: Russia, China and Australia’s strategic policy

The proximity and size of China, and the belligerence of the US toward China, has occluded the view of Russia among Australia strategic planners. While Russia poses no credible direct threat to Australia, it could be a key player in a conflict between the US and China. Once Russia is factored into the analysis of the situation in East Asia, the global consequences of a war are magnified and the recklessness of contemplating participating in such a conflict becomes even clearer.

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China’s newfound intimacy with Russia is a strategic blind spot for Australia (Alexey D Muraviev)

We have become very China-centric in our strategic thinking in Australia — and this could be to our detriment. Beijing’s deepening defence ties with Russia remain a blind spot in our public debate. China and Russia have grown much closer in recent years, especially when it comes to security and defence. Instead of taking a serious look at the ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’ between Russia and China, we largely play down what unites these two major nuclear powers and the world’s most potent militaries outside the United States.

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Strategic suspicion and coronavirus consequences: the cost of Australia’s defence (Marcus Hellyer)

Marcus Hellyer provides a measured and considered analysis of the spending and force structure proposals associated with Australia’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update and 2020 Force Structure Plan. The article considers the proposed funding model, tests the connections between the strategic drivers identified and the capabilities proposed for acquisition, and identifies some of the risks that could affect the successful delivery of the proposed capabilities.

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Today’s risks and the history of war: recognising the unknowable

Is a great power war in prospect? The study of war provides insights into the preconditions for conflict and an awareness of the unpredictable nature of war. It shows that great power wars can be as unpredictable as they are transformational. The winners are hidden from sight at the inception, and the losers risk everything. If Australian leaders assume they could come out unscathed on the winning side of an East Asian war they are taking a huge gamble on behalf of Australian citizens.

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Morrison aligns defence policy with new reality (Michelle Grattan)

The 2020 Defence Strategic Update has given us the ‘defence pivot … designed to increase the military costs for an enemy thinking of attacking Australia, and to boost the ability to strike back at a distance if such an attack occurred’. But does the price tag amount to significant increase in Defence spending? Michelle Grattan observes that ‘the $270 billion ‘spend’ on hardware over a decade doesn’t actually represent a big increase from the 2016 figure of $195 billion’.

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Labor misses opportunity to offer new perspectives on Australia’s defence policy (Katherine Mansted)

Katherine Mansted calls for a more open and robust democratic dialogue about Australia’s strategic circumstances and policy options: one that can ‘bring Australians along as we make choices which will have generational significance and — importantly — help ensure we get these tough decisions right.’

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Is Australia’s security policy an expensive failure? (Mark Beeson)

With the rise of “nontraditional threats”, people are actually feeling increasingly insecure. But “to keep our nation safe and protect our way of life for future generations” the Australian government is promising to spend $270 billion on defence. Even if we weren’t facing the prospect of plunging into the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, this sort of spending and the thinking that underpins it looks highly questionable and unlikely to achieve its central goals.

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Australian strategic policy: why we need a robust public debate

Only a select group of voices is heard most often and most loudly on the subject of Australia’s strategic policy. This creates a false sense of certainty around what is a speculative and inexact policy area. The policy choices, and the connection between strategic policy and force structure, deserve to be intensively examined and validated through public debate – not least of all because the opportunity cost of defence investment is huge.

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Australia-China July monthly wrap up | On being ‘very different countries’ – AUSMIN and China’s rise (Australia-China Relations Institute)

ACRI’s Elena Collinson and James Laurenceson present a useful summary and analysis of major developments in July 2020. The authors’ observations about Australia-China and Australia-US trade issues are a welcome contribution to an area often long on rhetoric and short on analysis. Professor James Curran sees reason for optimism in an assessment of the state of the Australia-China relationship in light of the comments of Australian ministers Payne and Reynolds at the AUSMIN 2020 talks in Washington. But has Australia done enough to distance itself from the US’s confrontational stance with China? Or will Australia-China high-level channels of communication “continue to stagnate”?

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AUSMIN 2020: confirmation of Australia’s abandonment of strategic autonomy?

Australians should not take comfort from recent government statements around the Australia-US Ministerial Consultations – claims that Australia makes its own decisions, its own judgments, in the Australian national interest, in order to uphold Australia’s security, prosperity and values. Reassuring words are the slippery province of diplomacy. Strategic policy is founded in force structure and force posture.

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Defence Strategic Update 2020: A first assessment (James Goldrick)

A candid assessment of Australia’s challenges, but will the planned measures be enough? (James Goldrick) Author: James Goldrick | The Interpreter (Lowy Institute) | Published 2 July 2020 The update is as ambitious in its strategic scope as in its capability plans. “The Defence Strategic Update 2020 launched yesterday in Canberra is a notably candid assessment of the strategic challenges Australia faces and the measures with which the government plans to meet them. It explicitly

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It’s one thing to build war fighting capability, it’s another to build industrial capability (The Conversation)

Analysis suggests that the proportion of contracts awarded to firms that are both Australian operated and owned is low, and that work done by Australian-controlled companies has been increasingly subcontracted to foreign-owned prime contractors. The Australian part of Australia’s defence industry is small, and getting smaller. This subordinate role has important implications for the health of Australia’s industry and national resilience.

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Australia’s 2020 Defense Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan: A Paradigm Shift (Ankit Panda)

Ankit Panda reflects on the new context of Australia’s 2020 Strategic Update compared to its predecessor, the 2016 Defence White Paper, and the “bold prescriptions” that flow from Australia’s reassessment of the strategic environment – in particular, the notion of investing more in conventional stand-off weaponry – long-range missiles. This development will be a welcome one for many in the US strategic community, he notes, where calls for American allies to acquire such capabilities have long persisted.

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Hidden gems in Australia’s 2020 Force Structure Plan (The Interpreter)

The recent release of the Defence Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan provided an outline of the Australian government’s defence policy and capability priorities for the next decade. The Force Structure Plan in particular helps define how an additional [AUD] $270 billion will be invested to deliver critical capabilities for a more lethal, flexible, enhanced and independent Australian Defence Force (ADF). The $270 billion shopping list has some surprising inclusions… a close reading of the document reveals items that have largely escaped notice but are interesting because of their value, proximity, implications, novelty – or because they’re just plain weird.

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