Putin and the Ukraine: The quintessential Russian chess master

Using the political turmoil in Ukraine and perceptions of Western weakness to his advantage, Putin hatched a plan designed to keep hold of Russia’s strategic interests in the Crimea by sending in his soldiers, capturing or surrounding airfields and other important military infrastructure, without a shot being fired. Under the cover of military manoeuvres along the Ukrainian-Russian border, 25,000 soldiers wearing no insignia were given strict orders not to provoke a clash with Ukrainian forces, but to move into the Ukrainian autonomous province of Crimea in what can only be interpreted as ‘occupation by stealth’. However, in doing so, President Putin broke a tenet of law that bound together the post-Soviet periphery around Russia (that Russia would respect the territorial sovereignties of post-Soviet states). This now is void. Perhaps now the 1997 agreement between Moscow and Kiev that allowed Russia to use Crimea till 2042 as the base for its Black Sea Fleet – the only ice-free naval port Russia has, and one that allows Russia to exert power into the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond, is void too. So was it therefore necessary to take the area by force? Well, that would certainly depend on one’s perspective. The ousting of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was considered by some interests in Moscow a ‘game changer’. Bereft of a natural ally in Kiev, Putin and his inner circle may very well have thought that ownership of Crimea is nine-tenths of the law. No one could make a play to push Russia’s naval presence out of Crimea if Russian troops were there in numbers. Indeed. But the risks associated with this move may have some unforeseen consequences. One of the most pressing issues confronting Russia is the prospect of economic harm. Since Friday February 28 to the time of writing, March 4, foreign investors, no longer convinced that Russia is a ‘good bet’, are selling Russian assets. The value of the rouble, as well as Russian stocks and bonds, have tanked. Russia’s MICEX stock index fell by $60 billion. According to the ING Bank, Russia spent 2 percent of its gold and foreign exchange reserves to prevent the rouble from free fall. But Russia is not the Soviet Union and trade is a two-way street. Russia still controls the flow of significant oil and gas supplies to Western Europe. Russia is a premier nuclear weapons state. And Russia is an exporter of key commodities to the international market. So the question then becomes, how much Western economic pressure can be applied to a state that is essential to a large segment of the international community? Can today’s Russia be economically isolated and treated like North Korea or Iran? Possibly not. Furthermore, there is the potential to amplify Russian nationalism. For the US and Western Europe to throw Russia into the economic deep-end would in all likelihood create a ‘laager’ mentality where Russian memories of international isolation during Soviet times catalyse into a more virulent form of nationalism to that practiced by Putin. Then there is the very real dilemma of hurting the former Soviet states dependent on a relatively healthy Russian economy. If the West punishes Russia too severely over its push into Crimea, Central Asian countries, not in anyone’s firing line, might be crippled and destabilised. This obviously would have very real implications on the spread of jihadist sentiment throughout this fragile region. There is a lot at stake and none of it easy to deal with.

Returning to the domestic situation in Russia, should the oligarchs currently favouring Putin’s hardline against Ukraine be asked to sacrifice too much of their profitability for ‘Mother Russia’, what may come back to haunt the Russian president is then their reliability as partners in modern Russia’s experiment with ‘authoritarian-capitalism’. Having suffered their first negative run on the markets and money being king in today’s neo-Liberal international order, it may be that the oligarchs’ tolerance for playing the nationalist card with Putin over Crimea could quickly fade, and may lead Kremlin power-brokers to replace the Putin-Medvedev political duopoly that has ruled Russia since 2000. But then again, Russian political culture favours a strong leader and Putin is extremely clever in playing to the sum of all Russian fears of Western post-Cold War triumphalism. If Crimea is kept in Russia’s orbit without enduring too much more economic punishment, perhaps Putin and his supporters will be vindicated. Crimea from a strategic perspective may very well be worth the price of a temporary lull in economic activity. If on the other hand Ukraine provokes a Russian use of force which escalates into something less controllable, the only real option President Putin will have is to use massive, decisive conventional force to deal Ukraine and by extension, the West, a sharp, irreversible shock. Cooler heads may prevail, but looking at how Russia has emerged as a real challenger to American international power without being as strong as the US or as rich as the US, Washington might have to act to halt the perception of its own decline. Putin has been given much room to manoeuvre. Providing sanctuary to former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden has not been forgiven. Russia’s involvement as protector of the Syrian regime and as a silent partner and protector of Iran has not been forgiven. A potential USD2 billion arms deal to Egypt in February, even though welcomed by the Egyptians, (old American geostrategic turf), has not been forgiven. Washington will be working on a check on Putin’s ambitions and Russia’s re-emergence as a significant power. Cashed-up, angry and vengeful the US may well use the Crimean crisis as Putin’s tipping point. But against a skilled player like Putin, President Obama will need a nimble and highly targeted strategy. Wielding a hammer to kill a fly will net no gain and may well work against the Americans as others become collateral damage to American blind fury.

Unemployment – the greatest national security threat of all

Free trade, globalisation, national politics, national community.  What is wrong with this picture?  Simple, these four terms are not mutually complementary.  With no political imagination or ‘chutzpah’, we of the First World now lie prostrate before the ‘Masters of the Universe’ on Wall Street.  To them everything and everyone is a commodity to be traded; there is a general consensus that without these captains of industry, we the people would be destitute.  But wait!  Aren’t we the people staring destitution in the face?  The EU’s middle class and working class have been dealt a severe blow by the transformative event of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).  In the US, the centre of Western manufacturing and innovation, those hurt the most by the GFC’s transformation are the working poor who are now poorer.  People who were on the lower socio-economic scale and aspired to be middle class have nothing to hang their dreams on.  People who were middle class and aspired to higher ranking, lost houses, cars and other symbols of ‘social mobility’. People in Australia, the ‘lucky country’ are giving up on hope after the various governments of Australia foolishly bet everything on the one horse race called China. Now that China is buying less of Australia’s unrefined commodities – the fuel of China’s boom – there is a sense that the country is about to face a long avoided financial reckoning. However, the idea of Australia being the farm and the mine to Asia has yet to pass from view since the alternatives are too hard to imagine. This is what globalisation has done. This is what our political elites have bought into and this unfortunately, is what we seem to be stuck with. Free trade is ethically superior to propping up 20th Century industries. Free trade makes money and drives innovation. But it also has no social basis for egalitarianism, no inherent fairness. It’s the markets that create demand. But what are the markets? What drives demand? People: advertising and PR companies who manipulate the public’s desire for things of little intrinsic value. Fast food, mobile phones, and the ‘common luxuries’ that everyone seems to want and want at bargain basement prices. So, what happens when political parties of all persuasions buy into this? The political class becomes co-opted by the economic class. They essentially become a ruling group, localised fractures and differences notwithstanding. The politicians, in spite of the glaring social problems that unfettered globalisation has created, will defend free trade and globalisation and convince the great unwashed – the public – that there are no alternatives. That there is no human ability to innovate politically so one can make money, even be rich and yet ensure that fairness is central to this enterprise.

This morning an expert on social issues on a local talkback radio show, tried to explain the virtues of all those ‘high-tech’, ‘high-value’ knowledge-based goods yet to be thought of, that will, in the future (which as we know is an undiscovered country), require a skilled workforce.  In the opinion of some, the prospective closing of the auto industry in Australia, largely based in the states of South Australia and Victoria, is really not that bad.  Really? The jobs that according to economists have ‘no commercial value’, generally low-skilled jobs, are being shunted off-shore to low cost countries.  The knock-on effects are naturally felt further up the chain.  Shopkeepers, who depend on ‘cashed-up’ factory workers to keep their businesses viable, are no longer needed.  Small/medium businesses that service the manufacturing hubs of developed nation-states are closing and their work is being outsourced to developing world countries. Western countries are bleeding essential services from their economies.  What remains is the hope that salvation will come with a formula to absorb the newly unemployed.  The commentariat are full of helpful suggestions.  Their new buzzword ‘Knowledge Based Industry’ is as confusing as it is patronizing.  If ‘Knowledge Based Industry’ is a term based on reality, then Western states would have naturally and seamlessly transited to this more sophisticated mode of production two or more decades ago.  Green industry?  Yes, we can produce giant fields of windmills with no discernable effect on climate change or base load power.  This quixotic exercise is wasteful in financial and human capital.  A continuation of the current state of affairs will certainly enrich poorer, lower skilled countries.  The West will certainly get cheaper manufactured goods, but conspicuous consumption on welfare payments puts a huge crimp on spending.  What economists should acknowledge is that sometimes there is social value in keeping local factories open so that people who otherwise have no hope, have employment and a chance at raising their social and income levels.  Furthermore, national leaders of all stripes must surely see the sense in providing the part of their populations that need it, access to low skilled work since at a bare minimum, these people can still contribute their taxes for the provision of government services. This would be what a socially responsible government would think. Social responsibility is the highest social, economic and political good a government can provide its citizens.

And what of the national security threat posed by protracted high unemployment – boredom.  De-industrialised urban areas are already filled with young, angry and disenchanted people fuelled by a mixture of drugs and alcohol, left to their own devices and poorly policed.  Such areas of urban decay will impact on the wealthier suburban areas, creating what will be tantamount to urban warzones – poor against rich. Governments without vision of which there are many, will resort to brutal policing tactics to curb some of the worst of the violent crimes but will be loath to anger the ‘high-born’ economists or traders who made their fortunes by advising to sell or selling factories off-shore.  Buying back the farm is no longer considered an option in a globalised, borderless world. Political agitation may in some circumstances give rise to political violence and terrorism, not of the Osama bin Laden type, but of the violent domestic left wing terrorism the West experienced in the 1970s-80s.  Some developed countries may have outbreaks of social instability, bringing down governments. So far, the Masters of the Universe have won some significant battles, but have not yet won the war for control.  However, as the means of production (low skilled and otherwise) is shifted to less developed states, economic growth in the West will falter unless saved by an as yet unforseen technology or method of re-training the existing ‘antiquated’ labour force.  In a new cycle of history, the poorer countries that had been on the periphery of modern, post-Cold War geopolitics will take centre stage.  Armed with Western means of production sold to them by Western interests for a tidy profit, an understanding of Western social norms and conditions and with a burgeoning youth bubble, these once underprivileged societies may end up looking more like what the West used to be. It happened before when Rome accustomed and integrated the German tribes to Roman standards, only to have the German tribes visit fire on the ‘Eternal City’ with German-made Roman-style weapons.  There may be a lesson in this.

By Dr. John Bruni, Director SAGE International

Idle hands are the devil’s playthings…

The Syrian civil war (2011-), just as the civil war that wracked Iraq after the toppling of Saddam (2003-11), and the civil war that toppled Col. Gaddafi in Libya (2011), act as magnets for foreign fighters, people drawn into the conflict, often because of a shared sense of loyalty to the ethnic or sectarian value of one or the other side. Presently Australian intelligence suggests that there are some 200 Australian-born/or permanent residents who have found their way into Syria, most to fight against the incumbent government of Bashar al-Assad. These same estimates purport to know that of these 200 individuals, most have joined the ranks of the hardcore jihadist elements – the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) and the Al-Nusra Front. That the handful of people who have committed themselves to the ‘cause’ might potentially pose a threat to Australia upon their return from the Syrian battlefields is obvious. Armed with jihadist ideology that is anti-Western, and with the practical knowledge of how to rig IEDs or conduct small-scale paramilitary assaults, people who have volunteered their service to groups like ISIL or Al-Nusra, are rightly considered ‘suspect’ in their enduring loyalty to the state in which they reside – for the sake of this blog – Australia. But what made these volunteers volunteer in the first place? Many are of Sunni Lebanese origin. Many are economically disadvantaged and socially alienated. Life in Australia can be tough and people need to hold onto something to give their lives meaning and hope. In this case they turn to extreme Islam and to the struggles of their ancestral homes. Realistically though, even if one were to argue that of the 200 individuals, 50 were fighters, what threat do they pose to Australia?  Of our hypothetical figure of 50 fighters, some would have come home with physical or psychological trauma from the conflict. Some would have come home thoroughly jaded with political Islam and abandon it altogether, perhaps leaving as many as 10 jihadists. From these 10 jihadists possibly as few as 5 able-bodied, radicalised fighters may consider to take up arms against Australia. Assuming that 5 hardcore fighters exist, they would probably attempt to attack large, soft targets like open markets, malls and places of symbolic value. However, since 9/11, the Bali (2002) bombings and the London (2005) bombings, these soft targets are now covered by CCTV cameras – all linked to state and territory policing agencies. Local intelligence agencies are also confident of identifying and tracking those they believe pose some threat to Australia. There are no guarantees of perfect information, but it is better than total ignorance. Coming from the school of thought that prevention is better than cure, one has to wonder, why did the Australian government subscribe to multicultural theory, when the practice of multiculturalism is fraught with issues of national discord and discourages social cohesion? A strong country that values its own people from whatever background, and actively integrates them into the rich tapestry of one over-arching national culture, is surely better than a country that breeds disgruntlement, resentment and allows ancient feuds to fester under the guise of minority rights and freedoms. But then again such a country would probably have an economic model that allowed its human capital to be gainfully employed rather than trapped in the crushing dependence of welfare.

Democracy is dead, long live democracy!

As we rush into the 21st Century, one thing is becoming more and more apparent and that is that the old ideals that were fundamental to great civilisations, no longer hold currency. Living in freedom doesn’t have the same ring to it, unless it refers to the freedom to shop as an atomised consumer, unencumbered by weighty thoughts like politics. Indeed ‘citizenship’ itself seems redundant, like so many other words that used to hold sway for good or bad. Words like treason, betrayal, nationalism, faith and community – anachronisms all – now replaced by globalisation, consumerism, social media and the Internet. These latter points are what matter today; it is what mobilises the masses; what dulls their senses to what may very well be the inevitable – a world where power politics lacks power. Where the only power worth having is economic power. And in this world, a world of over 7 billion and counting, greed is not only good, it is the preserve of the über rich who are detached from the banalities of ordinary life.  Anecdotal evidence for this may very well be the formulation of new trade treaties such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). These trade treaties are not just multilateral experiments in ‘free trade’, they are rapidly becoming a new mode of global governance, where the state, the last vestige of public participation in politics (democratic or autocratic), becomes the servant to the new God of economics, driven not for the good of the people, nor out of a sense of fairness or justice, but for the good of the super wealthy and the market. Indeed, so overt is this, that if we take the TPP as prime example, we see that no government involved in this ‘trade deal’ is challenging the extreme secrecy surrounding its negotiations. What has been leaked to us via Wikileaks is that the TPP will be a monster like no other. It will force us to eat genetically modified food; it will rollback national health laws regarding the use of tobacco and it will increase the cost of medicines because international ‘Big Pharma’ is a conglomerate, acting in unison.  It will in effect curtail national political power through the ability to challenge national laws created to protect the public from harm. This may in effect pose a clear and present danger to the notion of national sovereignty itself.

With the support of modern technologies and the ever-present architecture of the surveillance state penetrating the stratum of society to tempt the unaware, the strong-willed as well as the gullible, the politically engaged, the bystanders and the apathetic, these new trade deals will manipulate our desires, thus keeping us chained to never-ending debt and create a web of dependence that only organised violence can break. And why? Because politicians of all persuasions, have given up on hope. Their incapacity to wield their power for the public good, says something about their ultimate corruptibility as much as their hopelessness. Perhaps the secrecy of the talks on the TPP & TTIP has something to do with the obvious international political malaise and lack of leadership.

By Dr. John Bruni, Director SAGE International

A never-ending cycle of blame

Just as Australia is bedding down the Snowden spying controversy (documents revealing that Australian intelligence agencies tapped the phones of the senior Indonesian leadership, including Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife), another scandal is emanating, this time from the ‘halfling-island’ of East Timor. A former mal-administered colony of Portugal, and brutally oppressed former province of Indonesia, East Timor is taking the Australian government to The Hague claiming that in 2004, Canberra spied on negotiators in order to give unfair advantage to Australian oil and gas giant Woodside Petroleum during the bilateral treaty – Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS).

A retired (un-named) ASIS officer who was allegedly ordered to plant a bug in the East Timorese cabinet room, had an attack of conscience and decided to act as a star witness against the Commonwealth of Australia. Attorney General George Brandis ordered raids on the office of Canberra lawyer Bernard Collaery (acting on behalf of the East Timorese government), and on the home of the retired ASIS officer and whistleblower, preventing him from appearing in The Hague by confiscating his passport.

The Left of Australian politics has come out in force to criticise Prime Minister Tony Abbott for defending the ‘unethical behaviour’ of the former LNP Howard government. And while it may seem that the un-named ASIS whistleblower was morally correct to rat on his colleagues and on Howard officials who used an arm of Australian intelligence for the commercial gain of an Australian company, we have to look a little deeper into this to understand why this happened.

East Timor in 2004 was far from a stable country. Having been liberated by an Australian-led military intervention in 1999 (INTERFET) at an approximate cost of AUD 400 million to the Australian taxpayers, (an Australian action which by its very nature almost sparked a war with Indonesia), the domestic political wash-up in the East Timorese capital Dili, post-liberation, was far from clear. Deep-seated ethnic divisions and antagonisms wracked the new nation. It was unclear whether the duumvirate of then President Xanana Gusmao and nationalist agitator José Ramos-Horta would hold. In fact the newly formed military (the Falintil-Forças de Defesa de Timor Leste or F-FDTL), clashed with police units in September 2003 and December 2004, leading to speculation that East Timor might in fact become a failed state on the door-step of both Indonesia and Australia. In this climate of uncertainty it was in the national interest to determine just how resilient the East Timorese leadership was and what their plans and motivations were regarding the rich oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea. That East Timor would always feel an aggrieved party to the negotiations stands. As one of Asia’s poorest countries and with a population of over 1 million, Dili could not have realistically expected the lion’s share of the oil and gas due to a number of factors. Woodside Petroleum, the commercial entity that would provide the monies and technologies to extract and distribute the resources, needed more than simple assurances from East Timor that ‘everything would work out OK’. Woodside would not have made a commitment unless they knew that their part in this deal was secure. Furthermore, as one of Australia’s largest commercial entities, it was not unreasonable for the Howard government to use Australian intelligence assets to assess the lay of the land. There was a lot to lose had things gone wrong. As it stands, the treaty that was negotiated in 2004 would still make the East Timorese a much richer society. But now, using the skills of an Australian lawyer, the confession and ‘moral anguish’ of the very person who allegedly spied on the East Timorese, and support of a part of the anti-establishment Australian media and the East Timor lobby, a case is being made to scrap the 2004 CMATS treaty. So, who loses if the treaty is scrapped? The East Timorese.  Renegotiating a new treaty with East Timor is not expected to be a quick undertaking. And even if it were, there is one screamingly obvious point that needs to be made. East Timor is rated 119/177 by the recently released Transparency International Report, the 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index. What does this mean? It means that even if a successful renegotiation of the oil and gas treaty and a successful legal push by the East Timorese in The Hague were to happen, there remains the central question – how would this wealth be spent?

While the now East Timorese Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao claims: Raiding the premises of a legal representative of Timor-Leste and taking such aggressive action against a key witness is unconscionable and unacceptable conduct. It is behaviour that is not worthy of a close friend and neighbour or of a great nation like Australia,” it is worth remembering that just because a country is ‘poor’ does not give it a greater case for ever increasing charity. As Australia ‘birthed’ and subsidized a large proportion of post-liberation East Timor through government assistance and other programs, East Timor should approach its relations with Australia from a position of enduring gratitude and friendship without which they would not have had independence. For those who believe in redistributing wealth in favor of the ‘downtrodden’, let’s be under no illusion; the downtrodden are usually in their position not just because of prevailing unfavorable externalities, but also because in many instances their privileged elite lack the moral and ethical capital to improve the situation of their people and take comfort in blaming others for their position.

By Dr. John Bruni, Director SAGE International

Peace in our time?

The announcement by the Obama Administration that a deal had been hammered out with the Iranians over their nuclear program caused mixed reactions. Open consternation came from House Republicans, who have demonised the Mullahs in Tehran since their ascension to power in 1979. Also openly critical is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while more muted criticism came from the Sunni Gulf (GCC) States. On the other side of the ledger are Obama’s supporters and the governments of the P5+1 group (the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany), that worked tirelessly to extract what is being widely touted as an Iranian climb-down after years of eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, (under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad), with the West.

So, is a celebration premature? Or are the doomsayers in Tel Aviv and among the GCC States reflecting a more accurate reality? Only time will tell. And there are so many different variables to consider, not just the nuclear situation in Iran. There is Iran’s support of various militant factions in the Palestinian territories (Hamas) and southern Lebanon (Hezbollah); Iran’s hand in the Syrian civil war (backing the Assad regime); the power play between Saudi Arabia, the seat of the Sunni Islam versus the ‘Shia’ of Iran; Israel’s nuclear weapons; Israel’s reluctance toward the creation of a Palestinian state; Israel’s relations with the Arab world; Israel’s hostility toward Iran. Then there is the fact that this agreement between the West and Iran leaves out the region’s other diplomatic players, the Gulf States and Israel. No long-standing peace can be guaranteed with these actors merely sitting on the sidelines. These are just some of the complicating issues that might well see any deal between the P5+1 dissolve before the 6-month life span given.

On a more optimistic note, if Iranian motives for peace are indeed ‘pure’, then we are in the midst of a power change in the Middle East that may see Iran secure for itself a long-term position as a preferred US security partner (in conjunction with, not against Israel). Given that Iran sits astride the Gulf, is a neighbour to problematic Pakistan, Afghanistan and the politically unstable, energy rich Central Asian Republics, there is some utility for US policy planners to prepare for such a scenario. What needs to be watched carefully over the next few weeks and months ahead, is local Iranian reaction to what will be extremely intrusive IAEA inspections at some very sensitive sites. Not all Iranians, especially those who were heavily invested in the Ahmadinejad years, will be happy to facilitate an IAEA run on Iran’s sovereignty at the behest of the United States. Watch this space, we are in for interesting times.

By Dr. John Bruni, Director SAGE International

Levée en masse: Napoleon’s legacy to the world

Upon listening to the latest edition of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast, the following blog came to mind.

Today, the influence of Napoleon Bonaparte is hardly considered when contemporary strategists pen their tomes on the way of warfare. Today it is all about drones, robots, all forms of automation and cyberspace. And perhaps it is true to say that in our more sophisticated, politically correct world, we are post-heroic, post-modern, post-ideological, post-religious, post-industrial shadows of our former selves. Gone are the 20th Century existential threats to world peace. Gone is NAZI Germany, the Soviet Union and Maoist China. But with the demise of these powers which required the mobilisation of national resources in preparation for total war – a peculiarly 20th Century notion of warfare – we now face a very different strategic environment, one that requires much smaller and dare I say restricted or limited force-structures. Perhaps when historians reflect on the international military changes during the early part of the 21st Century, they may suggest that man’s military necessities returned to a default setting of sorts i.e., back to ‘limited war’ settings. Even the mightiest forces (in numbers of personnel) are shrinking, cutting the idea of citizen-forces and conscripts from the equation. Smaller, high-tech, professional forces are certainly easier to fund during a time of austerity and are certainly more appropriate to use where countries no longer confront globalised threats from highly militarised, belligerent powers. But this is also a great leveller. Historically speaking, in the 17th Century, the great powers of Europe balanced off each other in a stable environment where no one great power possessed the means to overwhelm its rival. Today, we are approaching a similar strategic landscape, but on a global scale. Conventional forces around the world are being cut back, and apart from those states that possess nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them, no country can actually overwhelm another. The French Revolution was the turning point that broke old Europe’s notions of stability. Mass recruitment of able-bodied men, ‘levée en masse’ created a pool of conventional manpower designed to defend the first republic against the small, professional and mercenary armies of the European absolutist monarchs. It was a game changer. Wielded by the military and administrative genius of Napoleon Bonaparte, the French masses crushed the armies of absolutist Europe and then went on a rampage that saw much of continental Europe under French control from 1799-1814. But during this period of time, the absolutist enemies of France learnt a painful lesson and created their own variants of levée en masse. The post-Bonapartist period saw all European kingdoms and empires retain the ability to mobilise their respective populations and keep larger ‘peacetime’ standing forces in-being. This, coupled with the rapid changes of the industrial revolution that proliferated new military technologies, improved mobilisation schedules. By the eve of World War I, continental Europe was primed for annihilation. Twenty-five years later, with a steeper evolutionary climb by European armed forces, and building on the Bonapartist tradition, European powers fought another savage war. Indeed the idea of levée en masse continued throughout the Cold War period, kept in check only by the advent and proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. In an interesting historic counter-factual, would World War III have ignited in central Europe or northeast Asia were there not the fear of weapons of mass destruction overarching and all-destructive, keeping leaders and their ambitions under control? With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the idea of another total war being fought for global supremacy, the vacuum was not filled by states willing to maintain a large force in-being. Quite the contrary, every country sought to capitalise on a ‘peace dividend’. Even states that had long-standing quarrels and skirmishes with neighbours. Today, even the biggest militaries struggle to maintain themselves in the absence of a major threat to global peace. The reasons are complex. Yes, the Global Financial Crisis has impacted on defence budgets worldwide and will continue to do so for some time to come. But the creation of semi-automated and automated weaponry is replacing the need for large numbers of combatants. As force structures shift to accommodate and embed new technologies, larger powers and many medium-sized powers will become equally capable. Manpower won’t matter and certainly won’t intimidate. Does this mean that levée en masse; the legacy of Napoleon has been dealt the deathblow? No. Countries that are poor and underdeveloped will still use a form of levée en masse in order to recruit terrorists, insurgents, militias in numbers, in areas and in ways designed to complicate, confuse and push back against the automated, professionalised mechanised forces of others, Iraq and Afghanistan should act as salutary warnings of things to come.

By Dr. John Bruni, Director SAGE International

Shaking Hands with Clenched Fists II

A number of years ago (2002), my colleague at the University of Adelaide, Professor Purnendra Jain and I wrote a piece for the Asian Times entitled, ‘Shaking Hands with Clenched Fists’. In short it described the issues the Howard government faced in its bilateral relations with Indonesia following the MV Tampa incident, and the surprising success it had in rebalancing relations based on pragmatism, countering mutual threats such as People Smugglers and Terrorists. In short, the article demonstrated that in spite of the very real differences between Australia and its northern neighbour, it did not all have to be bad. The Abbott government has moved relatively quickly in its attempt to re-establish good relations with Indonesia after a period of drift & mixed signals during the Rudd-Gillard years. The problem of course is that governance and international relations are like two sides of a coin – espousing both declaratory policy (open source) and operational policy (secret) concurrently. Often, declaratory policy runs contrary to operational policy, and when this conflict of interest takes place in the public domain, government-to-government relations can sour and bring about unwelcome knock-on effects. For example, Prime Minister Abbott’s recent visit to Indonesia (early October) was seen and perceived to be a success, yet, in light of the revelations from the Snowden leaks which suggest that the Australian Embassy in Jakarta was used to facilitate American spying on that country, (and that such activities involved more than one Australian embassy in the region), it comes as no surprise that on her visit to Australia (November 12, 2013), Professor Dewi Fortuna Anwar, adviser to the Indonesian Vice-President, stood firm that her country reserved the right not to take asylum seekers retrieved from Australia’s maritime search and rescue zone. People smuggling agreements between Australia and Indonesia that were hard fought and largely hammered out behind closed doors are thankfully not imperilled, but the rhetorical battle played out in the headlines has caused some consternation for the Abbott government, especially for the new immigration and border protection minister, Scott Morrison. Morrison was forced on the defensive, conceding that Indonesia has blocked Australian efforts at returning Indonesian-based asylum seekers. This has now hit the national headlines with much of the Australian media running stories suggesting that there is a real crisis in the making. Much of this tinderbox reaction fuels long-held bias in Australia that somehow, Indonesia, because of its embryonic democracy and corruption-ridden government, poses a lurking threat to Australian interests. This public perception ignores the fact that the Australian government has an enduring interest in keeping Indonesia’s experiment with democracy going, no matter how messy or uncertain. Speaking of politics, while Australia has just finished its electoral cycle, Indonesia’s is only now starting to ramp-up with presidential elections due in mid-2014. Political transitions are hotbeds of jockeying for position, and using external controversies to shore up domestic support is an age-old tactic. We in Australia should not be overly concerned by the headlines. The ties that bind Australia and Indonesia will remain. But we do have to manage our public diplomacy better. Australia is a status quo power and Indonesia is a rising power and how we relate to each other will increasingly determine how comfortable our respective leaderships are with each other.

By Dr. John Bruni, Director SAGE International

The Holy Grail of Military Reform

The United States and many of its allies are in the process of dealing with the post-Afghanistan strategic environment. Soon it will be passé to talk of counter-insurgency campaigns, of military-led efforts at nation building and of humanitarian interventions. Budgetary constraints operating in Washington and other allied capitals are forcing a re-think. What sort of post-Afghanistan, post-Iraq force structures should be maintained? The knock-on effects of such speculations are daunting. Laboured by what can be afforded, national armies, navies, air forces and (for those that have them) marines, will have to be significantly pared back in size, and according to some – capability, in order to rebalance personnel, hardware and military readiness. Will this have a deleterious effect on the idea of conventional military deterrence? In the short to medium term, the answer has to be yes. During this transitional period it is highly likely that states such as North Korea, Iran, Russia and China will capitalise on America’s perceived weakness and the weakness of America’s more robust allies. What does this mean? It means that China will have a free hand to ‘push’ its naval forces out beyond the first to the second island chain and consolidate its presence in the Western Pacific and the South China Sea. Russia will be able to manoeuvre in Central Asia and the Caucuses, rebuilding its economic and social ties to both regions – when necessary at the point of a gun. Iran can pursue more aggressive policies against the GCC states, individually or collectively, while North Korea can rattle its sabre safe in the knowledge that South Korea and Japan cannot count on direct and timely US combat support. And while America’s recent experiment with targeted simultaneous special force raids in Libya and Somalia (Oct.5, 2013) demonstrated the effectiveness of high technology in combination with the extreme professionalism of special force units, only the Libyan raid succeeded. US Special Forces were pushed back by local militants in Somalia and were forced to withdraw. So while the US and its allies ponder over the future of their military, the future is already here. Those who for so long couldn’t pushback or act against the dominating presence of US influence, are now doing so, or preparing to do so. Over the next 5-10 years, should the US and its alliance network transit to newer, more economically sustainable and technologically adept force structures, the world will have changed. But for the prospect of social or economic collapse in either China or Russia, these two countries’ strategic footprints will be larger, and their willingness and ability to challenge, aid and support non-Western agendas will further expand. In the eventuality that the Chinese and Russian military modernization programs retain their ability to deploy military units ‘en masse’ and retain their organisational culture to sacrifice for the national interest against a light and nimble, technologically savvy, yet casualty-averse US-led West – the outcome of future battles, stratagems and diplomatic feints will be interesting to observe.

By Dr. John Bruni, Director SAGE International

Falcons hovering over the carcass of Syria?

The delivery of a battery of Patriot missiles and F-16 Falcon fighter planes to Jordan by the US (STRATFOR: 03/06/13) as a countermeasure against a potential spill over from the Syrian civil war into Jordanian territory, is unnecessarily provocative. Firstly, should such a spill over occur, it would occur through the uncontrolled movement of guerrilla fighters from Syria into Jordan, something that neither Patriots nor F-16s could deter or physically counter. If viewed in terms of pure symbolism, while King Abdullah of Jordan is a very close ally of the United States, the idea of beefing up Jordan’s air defences says more about potentially preparing Jordanian territory as a staging base for a no-fly zone/s over Syria, than it does about anything else. The Syrian Air Force is currently preoccupied with carrying out strikes against rebel forces geographically located within Syria proper. It has neither the will nor the technical capability of challenging regional air forces, as its impotence against recent Israeli airstrikes on Syrian targets clearly demonstrated (early May 2013). Israel, Jordan and Turkey share US military technology so it makes sense that this regional triumvirate, along with US assistance, may very well form the base of an internationally sanctioned no fly zone arrangement over Syria to finally close down Syrian Air Force operations against rebel forces. The recent controversy over the delivery of Russian weapons to the besieged government forces of Bashar Al-Assad adds to the perception that bolstering Jordan is in preparation for something more dramatic since the actual threat posed to Jordan by the Syrian Air Force, even under these dire circumstances, is miniscule. More worrying, however, is recent talk from a former Israeli intelligence chief who suggests that a massive Israeli aerial campaign on Syrian forces could topple the Assad regime. While possibly true, the problem is that such a strike may also incapacitate much of Syria’s remaining governing assets, thereby undermining Damascus’ capacity for central authority and leading to the possible fragmentation of Syria proper. Then, there’s the thorny question of whether the Syrian Rebels would feel gratitude for this sort of unilateral Israeli assistance, or simply take whatever opportunity avails them before turning their guns on the Jewish state.

By Dr. John Bruni, Director SAGE International