Saturday 28 Mar 2020 | 21:24 | SYDNEY

Australia in the World

What I saw at Kakadu IX

It’s not every day you see warships from as far away as Japan and Pakistan in Australian waters. So I was surprised that the Australian and international media did not take more notice of Kakadu IX, Australia’s largest multinational maritime exercise, which concluded in the waters off Darwin

Reader riposte: Another tribute to Greg Urwin

Denise Fisher was Australian Consul-General to Nouméa in 2001-2004: As a footnote to Graeme Dobell's moving tribute to Greg Urwin, it is a measure of the man that, at the time of his appointment as Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum, there was considerable scepticism

What our international reputation worth?

God, how depressing. When the federal government isn't throwing money at mega-corporations to make their hybrid cars here or spending an estimated $40 million for each Olympic gold medal, state governments are 'luring' film production companies with cash handouts so they'll shoot

LHDs: Integrating all our capabilities

Hugh White is right. If you wanted ships devoted solely to humanitarian tasks you wouldn't go for the expensive amphibious ships (LHDs) our Navy has selected; you'd go for a much cheaper civilian design. (I note that the UK Royal Navy has found something of a happy medium in this regard

Let get real about the LHDs

I think the recent thread on Australia’s amphibious capabilities (starts here, then here, here, here, here and here) conflates two separate arguments. One is about how we balance military and non-military roles in the way we equip and organise our forces. The other is about the kinds of

The rules-based system

My criticism of Shadow Foreign Minister Andrew Robb's recent speech was that it is difficult to see a clear link between an individualist, free market approach in domestic politics to one focused on bilateralism in foreign policy. Mr Robb did much to clarify that link in his blog response

Vale Greg Urwin

Greg Urwin was a connoisseur of kava, the lip-numbing drink that is a symbol of the South Pacific. Greg could describe the different strengths, flavours and origins of kava, comparing Vanuatu to Solomon Islands or Fiji. And, with the cherubic grin that was an Urwin trademark, he would recount how

Reader riposte: More on the amphibious ships

Chris Skinner writes in response to my last post about what Australia should do with its new amphibious ships (my response follows): The probability of the amphibious ships (or LHDs) of the day being used for their intended purpose has been a lot higher than zero on several occasions

Crisis response: Empowering individuals

Stop reading for a moment, look around the building you are in, and ask yourself, 'do I know where the emergency exit is?' The Age and SMH ran a terrific little article this weekend in their magazine supplement about how people survive disasters; information and preparation are key

Navy best placed to operate amphibious ships

Sam’s rebuttal suggests we are in overall agreement that the utility of the new ships is far broader than just the conduct of defence operations.  However, we must be careful not to equate the broad range of capabilities offered with the need for broad command and control arrangements

Amphibious ships: Let make full use of them

In answer to my proposal that the Navy's amphibious ships be classed as national logistical assets and operated by various agencies concerned with humanitarian tasks, Mark O'Neill says the right people must be put in charge of those ships to get the right effect. To illustrate the

Amphibious ships part of our insurance policy

Sam's assertion that labeling the amphibious ships as ‘warships’ is a ‘fiction’, based on the low probability of their use in ‘war', provides a precedent for any number of things. For example, if we recognise the ‘fiction’ of runway safety zones at our international

The link between Liberalism and bilateralism

Guest blogger: Andrew Robb MP (pictured) is the Member for Goldstein and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. Unsurprisingly, I disagree with some of Sam's analysis of my speech. The case I make for why bilateralism is a better fit for my side of politics than multilateralism (and vice

Reader riposte: What to do with our not-warships

Campbell writes (my response follows): I would like to congratulate you on advancing the idea that other governmental departments could utilise our logistical defence assets for roles that we are perhaps more likely to deal with as opposed to 'traditional' military

Liberalism in foreign policy

It's rare for Australian politicians to wrestle publicly with the roots of their party philosophy, so it was encouraging to read Shadow Foreign Minister Andrew Robb's speech to the Australian Institute of International Affairs, which promised a close examination of how Liberal foreign

Harnessing our national logistical assets

The military-themed blog Ares reports here on a recent speech by the Singaporean defence minister Teo Chee Hean about the increasing role of military forces in disaster relief: ...the role of militaries in responding to non-traditional security challenges is proving increasingly

This sporting nation

 Australia's reputation, apart from gallantry in times of war, is founded on the performance of our athletes. If that's true, it's surely a very good reason for Australia to develop other talents. But no, Australian Olympic Committee Chairman John Coates apparently

Limiting Australia military options

I've been remiss in not commenting on former General Jim Molan's new book about his experience as General George Casey's chief of operations in Iraq. Paul Kelly, who summarises Molan's argument in this column, says Molan is critiquing the 'Australian way of war', but based

The environmentalism of hope

Tim Dunlop is right on the money with his latest commentary on selling climate change to the public. In fact, Shadow Treasurer Malcolm Turnbull made a similar argument on Q&A last night: you don't actually need to believe that climate change is happening or even to invoke climate change to

Reader riposte: Australian resilience

Harry writes about Australia's ability to absorb and bounce back from a terrorist attack, aka 'resilience': Three comments on your Securing Australia post. A 'post-attack recovery' programme might require a fair amount of planning: so much so that

I choose to not remove all doubt*

One of the most intoxicating things about moving from the bureaucracy to the think tank world is that, rather than being pre-occupied with trying to make your voice heard, in a think tank you are occasionally faced with  the unfamiliar sensation of having people (journalists, mostly) actually

Safeguarding Australia

I'm attending the Australian Homeland Security Research Centre's Safeguarding Australia Summit. This is largely a practitioner's conference, intended for those who work daily on threats to Australian security. Terrorism is only one, of course, and one of the themes of the conference

Defence may need to recruit some used car salesmen

It looks like The Netherlands is reliving Australia's Seasprite helicopter debacle with its new NH-90 naval helicopter. It all sounds so familiar: spiraling costs and delays in mission systems mean that existing platforms have to be upgraded at huge expense. Politicians ask if the contract can

Stephen Smith speech

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has just finished a speech to the Lowy Institute on Asian regional institutions. We'll have a recording of the event on our homepage tomorrow, but a few quick first impressions from me: Maybe Barry Desker was right, and Prime Minister Rudd's

Fitzgibbon in Washington

On Tuesday, the Lowy Institute hosted a speech by the Australian Defence Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, on his first ministerial visit to Washington, DC. We partnered with the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution to hold the event. The diverse audience included, somewhat

Suppose they gave a terror attack and nobody came?

Optus says the cause of a cable fault that shut down phone and internet connections in Queensland and some parts of New South Wales for four hours today is 'not yet known'. Terrorists at present favour spectacular attacks that maximise loss of life, but as I've argued before,

Australia and Fiji both clouding the atmosphere

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith is in Fiji for the Pacific Islands Forum Ministers’ Ministerial Contact Group’s talks with the Fiji interim government. Interim Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama has to convince the Contact Group of Fiji’s readiness to hold elections by the

The Alexander Downer I know

I have known Alexander Downer for 32 years – since we joined the foreign service in 1976 in the aftermath of the 1975 dismissal of the Whitlam Government. We did not hit it off. Rather, throughout our training year we argued, abused and trashed each other at (tedious) length. The escalation

Friday funny: VNZ Day

The newish ABC TV program devoted to the advertising industry, The Gruen Transfer, regularly challenges ad agencies to come up with campaigns to sell unpopular or ridiculous ideas. In last Wednesday's episode, The Gruen Tranfer aired two cracking advertisements promoting the idea that

Downer and 'the left'

Former foreign minister Alexander Downer today mounts a defence of his record against last week's harsh retrospective by Sydney Morning Herald political editor Peter Hartcher. When I linked to the Hartcher piece I noted its personal tone, and Downer is right to complain about that. But it is

War and decision

Andrew Shearer's suspicion is correct. My reference to Iraq as a 'war of choice' was a lazy throwaway line that I'll try to never use again. A corollary to the 'wars of choice' idea is that war should only ever be a last resort, but as with 'wars of choice', that&#

Defence planning: Flexibility is key

I’d like to support Andrew Shearer’s response to Sam about the use of defence policy to constrain the options of future governments. Like Andrew, I think the job of current policy is to shape forces which give future governments the widest possible range of military options in the widest

War is always a choice

I'm moved to respond to what may have been a throwaway line by my colleague and editor of The Interpreter, Sam Roggeveen: Besides, the war in Iraq in particular was a war of choice, and improving our military capability for such operations will only tempt politicians to conduct more

Defence White Paper: Business as usual

I’m generally content to watch the Defence White Paper debate from a distance. That’s because the outcome is pretty predictable, for three main reasons. First, the force structure the ADF will have out to 2030 – the period covered by the White Paper – is largely set by decisions

Leahy legacy

So Chief of Army Peter Leahy has retired, having presided over a substantial boost in Australian Army size and capability. Leahy is very much of the new school that sees counter-insurgency as the way of future war: "What we are seeing and will see increasingly in the future is that

The ABC of alarmism

The ABC's coverage of Andrew Davies' presentation to the ASPI conference gets it pretty much backward. As I noted briefly yesterday in a wrap up of the conference highlights, the headline conclusion from Andrew's speech (which was based on this paper) is that there is no arms race in

Two views of Downer

Our longest-serving Foreign Minister, who has just announced his retirement from the parliament, clearly evokes strong feelings. For the prosecution, we have Peter Hartcher of the Sydney Morning Herald, who pens a rather devastating portrait of Downer's personality. There's more than a

ASPI Conference, day 2

A few highlights from an excellent set of speakers: Barry Desker, Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said Rudd's Asia Pacific Community idea was 'dead in the water' because the Government had done too little regional consultation before launching the

Reader riposte: What wrong with aircraft carriers?

Chris Skinner replies to Alan Wrigley's email about the navy and its aircraft carrier ambitions: Alan Wrigley's comments illustrate better than I could possibly describe how he views the force structuring process as a contest for investment resources that is played out in

ASPI Global Forces Conference, 2008

I'm in Canberra for the ASPI Conference, profiting from some very high quality presentations. That's both encouraging and daunting, as I'll be giving a short talk myself tomorrow on defence policy. One bit of news from the event is that Warren Snowdon, Minister for Defence

Reader riposte: The navy agenda

Alan Wrigley writes in response to my post on Australia's new amphibious ships (mini- aircraft carriers, really): Never underestimate the guile of the Australian Navy. You speculated about the possibility of its huge new amphibious ships becoming a platform for operating future

Understanding your government

It occurred to me while reading this pretty unremarkable press release from Trade Minister Simon Crean that it may interest some of you to know a little of how such documents come about. Before I joined the public service, I myself was pretty mystified at how the flat, colourless phrasing we often

Reader riposte: Ski-jumping to conclusions

Chris Skinner is a regular correspondent, and I kind of knew my post on the RAN's new amphibious ships would get his blood boiling. My response follows Chris' email: Sometimes I despair at your perception that Australia must tiptoe around making sure not to upset anyone in the

Amphibious ships: What a ski jump worth?

I don't often comment on Australian Financial Review articles because readers need a paid subscription to get to the source material. But it's worth making an exception today for a piece about Australia's yet-to-be-built amphibious ships. As the article notes, at 27,000 tonnes each,

Who will sit on Rudd new disarmament panel?

Since The Interpreter’s eyes are already on Arms Control Wonk today, it is also worth noting that Wonk correspondent James Acton, a rising star among global arms control scholars, has his gaze on the Australian Government’s new nuclear disarmament commission. James is even inviting readers to

Singh sin of omission won't lead to fission

I’ve a lot of respect for the work of the Arms Control Wonk, Jeffrey Lewis, whose blog consistently provides some of the world’s best in-depth news, speculation and background on arms control issues. But I think he has it wrong in his latest post on India and nuclear testing. Jeffrey

Australia-India: The signs are good

Australia-India relations have received a needed political boost this week, with the visit to Canberra by Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, primarily for a ‘framework dialogue’ with his counterpart Stephen Smith. Foreign ministries inevitably declare such visits to be

Garrett turns down the volume

Environment Minister Peter Garrett is sounding a little less confrontational today than he did on the eve of the International Whaling Commission meeting in Chile. Good. When he arrived at the meeting yesterday he said 'we do not agree to go down the track of any form of compromise'