The Australia-India Strategic Partnership: ‘Shared values’ mask the real strategic purpose

By Mike Scrafton | The much-used phrase ‘shared values’ is regularly used as the basis for international relationships and alliances. It can be used to selectively point to values found in political, social or economic ideologies, or in religious or ethical systems – and to divert attention away from substantive issues or conjure up imaginary communities of interest. In the context of the Australia-India Strategic Partnership, does the use of the phrase mask the real strategic purpose of the agreement?

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Rising powers: grand strategies, balance of power and Australia

By Mike Scrafton | Grand strategies are the territory of great powers, while other states see their strategic independence incorporated into another state’s grand strategy. The comfort that Australia embraced while enclosed in an American grand strategy can’t last, and hard choices lie ahead. In the shifting power balance, Australia will need to recover its autonomy.

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Strategic rivalry between United States and China: causes, trajectories, and implications (SWP)

A comprehensive and insightful paper that looks at the various dimensions of the rivalry between the United States and China.

Australia, already caught up in the global competition for influence, is likely to be subject to ‘increased pressure from Washington on its allies to take a clear position on the sharpening US-China conflict and clearly side with the United States’.

The paper seeks a strategy for Europe ‘to escape the bipolar logic that demands it choose between the American and Chinese economic/technological spheres’ – but the recommendations for Europe should resonate equally with Australian policy-makers and strategic thinkers.

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Regulation, tariffs and reform of supply chains: neoliberalism under pressure?

By Mike Scrafton | For the moment, reducing reliance on overseas supply chains appears to be a big lesson out of the COVID-19 pandemic. But reluctance to regulate corporate and commercial activity has been a hallmark of governments across the world. Are neoliberal governments capable of reversing the direction they have been taking for three or four decades?

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The dogs of war cry wolf: the post-pandemic China threat

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Peter Jennings and Michael Shoebridge have recently written of a potential military crisis in North Asia, possibly as soon as late 2020 or early 2021.

Amongst other extraordinary measures, Shoebridge calls for the ANZUS Treaty to be invoked, while Jennings calls for the Australian Defence Force to be placed on the highest levels of readiness and for Australian defence expendture to be boosted to around 3.2% of GDP.

Are their conclusions supported by the evidence they proffer?

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Australia’s strategic quandary: political leadership and the abandonment of strategy

Strategy, the link between policy and the battlefield, is now more important than ever.

If there is another great power war, it will be imperative for the political leadership to be clear and definitive about their strategic goals and about what victory would look like – at a time when the range and technological complexity of the weapons systems involved will provide a major barrier to the level of understanding of civilian leaders.

Australia’s strategic quandary emerges from its status as an ally to a great power. If it abrogates its responsibility to set national policy aims by joining in a coalition in which one great power antagonist determines the goals of the war it cannot claim to have a strategy. It cannot claim to be linking Australia’s national priorities to the military actions. Its fate would be in the hands of its great power ally.

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A tale of two Americas: Australia’s foreign policy choices post-pandemic

Writing in ‘The Strategist’ (Australian Strategic Policy Institute), Michael Shoebridge rightly points out that how the US rebounds from the COVID-19 crisis will be important for international relations and Australia’s foreign policy.

But his arguments posit an excessively flattering picture of the US and an incomplete view of its history.

It is crucial that Australian foreign and strategic policy-makers have a realistic and unvarnished understanding of how the US might approach the post-pandemic world. For better or worse Australia is tightly bound with the US economically and strategically.

Following the US lead may prove to be the right course. However, good, clear-eyed policy in the post-COVID environment cannot be based uncritically on an illusion.

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Friends of Europe: Transatlantic defence cooperation in the Trump era

An element of strategic divergence means the US and Europe are currently “not quite watching the same movie on the two sides of the Atlantic”, but there is hope that transatlantic defence industrial cooperation can function better if trade-offs are accepted and we have a shared view of the value of working together as allies says the author of Friends of Europe’s latest report on peace, security and defence.

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What do the Chinese think of the United States-Australian alliance?

In similar articles appearing in The Australian newspaper and on The Strategist website, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Peter Jennings has lauded the Australian government’s decision to refurbish and expand the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Tindal as ‘a giant strategic step forward’ – a project that ‘will deliver a firmer deterrent posture and a closer alliance with the US’.

In these articles ASPI’s Executive Director seems to overstate the case. Does China view Australia’s defence alliance with the United States ‘with a mix of envy and puzzlement’, as he suggests? Or might it be more likely to look with bafflement on a small, physically distant country willing to openly plan on the assumption of fighting a war it cannot influence against a state crucial to its economic prosperity?

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Is the United States of America a normal country?

Remarks at the Munich Security Conference by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper are full of unconscious irony.

If ‘the United States’ was substituted for every reference to ‘China’ in each address not much of their coherence would be lost. Can the two premier US leaders of foreign and strategic policy genuinely be so naïve about the current impact of America’s policies on the world order, multilateralism, alliances, and international security?

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The warning that wasn’t: Robert Gottliebsen’s warning to the Australian nation on the Future Submarines

Robert Gottliebsen has found ‘a clear warning to the Australian nation’ (‘The Australian’ 12 Feb 2020) in the Naval Shipbuilding Advisory Board (NSAB)’s recommendations. Gottliebsen construes the NSAB’s advice as a warning to the ‘nation of the risks’ which ‘may even ultimately put the alliance at risk’. He suggests that the NSAB is alluding to the possibility that the US will find a way to give Australia a combat system that is old technology.

In this article Mike questions whether Gottliebsen is right to see the NSAB’s advice as anything other than unremarkable and standard, and whether there is reason to think that the US would refuse to supply a suitable combat system. Finally, in light of the ANAO Report’s findings, Mike challenges the contention that there is evidence that Defence is not managing the project risks effectively.

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NATO, the Middle East and the policy vacuum

Recent public statements inspired by the Iran crisis fromNATO Secretary General Stoltenberg andPresident Trump reveal the real depths of the crisis for the NATO alliance. Increasingly the strategic interests of the Europeans and the Americans have diverged and the balance between costs and risks for America’s NATO partners is shifting.

If, as Hugh White recently observed, real alliances only work when there’s a clear alignment of strategic objectives – because countries only commit themselves to alliances, and accept the costs and risks, to serve their own objectives, not those of their allies – Jens Stoltenberg’s comments are telling.

At the same time, the comments of the Australian Prime Minister lack any indication that Australia’s foreign and strategic policy reflects a sophisticated appreciation of the geopolitical shifts taking place.

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