The Regionalist is a ideas and research driven online publication for young strategic thinkers in Australia and the broader region. If you have fresh ideas on improving regional security, then The Regionalist can help craft and publish your work. We seek forward leaning products that present policies and ideas that will better equip today’s policy-makers to overcome future security challenges. The Regionalist is an opportunity for future strategic leaders to contribute to the Institute's mission of delivering insights, ideas and impact.
The Institute for Regional Security invites submissions for The Regionalist all year round. We welcome products of between 1000 to 3000 words that provide understanding and recommendations on a specific regional security challenge facing Australia and our region.
The Regionalist: No. 7
Utilising Australia’s Strategic Assets in the Indian Ocean Region
Australia’s Indian Ocean Region strategic interests are becoming increasingly threatened by Indo-Sino competition, resulting in rising regional military activity and instability that is exacerbated by increasing US isolationism. Australia should safeguard its interests by operationalising its regional assets into defence capabilities on the strategically located Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island territories to enhance the US’s relatively dwindling power in the Indian Ocean Region.
Safeguarding Australia’s Education System from Foreign Influence
China’s increasingly sophisticated use of sharp power tactics and influence-and-control operations abroad poses an acute threat to Australia’s identity, sovereignty and national security. This is demonstrated by the increasing number of demonstrations at universities and the expanding prevalence of Confucius Institutes (CI) within Australia’s education sector. Federal and state governments must proactively identify and curtail China’s growing influence within the education sector, whilst developing an indigenous or alternative Mandarin language capability. In addressing this issue, Australian politicians and academics must realise that the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to academic integrity overrides arguments prioritising institutional independence; and seek collaboration with universities and independent organisations in the creation of an indigenous or alternative Chinese language program to replace CIs.
Winning Submission - Future Strategic Leaders’ Congress on Antarctica and the Southern Ocean
Antarctic Environmental Treaty and Australian-Led Science Program
Antarctica is of great importance to Australians. The Australian Antarctic Territory occupies a unique place in our national identity and Antarctic science will continue to be one of our national priorities. The modernisation of Australia's Antarctic program, through the enactment of the Antarctic Environmental Treaty and Australian-led Science Program is critical to enabling Australia to continue our strong support for the peaceful assertion of territorial claims, to deliver world-class scientific and environmental research and programs, and run our Antarctic operations safely and efficiently. The Antarctic Environmental Treaty will ensure the preservation and sustainment of the Antarctic region by reinforcing the designation of Antarctica as a scientific preserve, while also establishing freedom of scientific investigation and enhanced cooperation in environmental sciences.
Submissions from the Future Strategic Leaders’ Congress on Antarctica and the Southern Ocean
In What Ways can Australia Continue to Advance its Key National and Geopolitical Interests in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean Region?
In June 2019, the Institute for Regional Security’s Future Strategic Leaders’ Program hosted a Congress focused on the strategic implications for Australia on the security and ongoing prosperity of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean Region. As part of the Congress program, five teams of early-career national security professionals participated in a workshop to develop innovative policy proposals to address the question ‘In what ways can Australia continue to advance its national and geopolitical interests in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean region?’ The winning proposal is outlined in the article Antarctic Environmental Treaty and Australian-Led Science Program. The remaining four proposals have been captured in this article and include education and communication strategies, the establishment of federal government agencies to manage Australian interests, multilateral forums to promote the fair and sustainable use of Antarctic resources, and supporting technology development and innovation in the region.
The Regionalist: No. 6
Indonesia’s economic growth would enable it to generate greater strategic capacity, which would include cyber capabilities. If Australia and Indonesia experience a major disagreement or develop significantly divergent national interests in the future, cyber capabilities would represent an attractive means for Indonesia to protect those interests. Australia must continue increasing strategic engagement with Indonesia to further enable the type of close relationship that best ensures Indonesia remain a strategic partner. A closer cyberspace partnership would help strengthen the relationship and de-incentivise future cyber aggression.
The Regionalist: No. 5
Embracing an Unconventional Force Structure
Past ways of developing capabilities for the ADF will constrain the effectiveness of the future force. Technological advancement has highlighted the potential for trusted autonomy, which will provide the greatest return if Defence integrates autonomous systems into the force and addresses eight requisite criteria. Policy makers, planners and innovators should recognise the value that an emerging Australian industry in autonomous systems could deliver to the force structure.
China is pursuing a national strategy focused on the acquisition of advanced technology by gaining access from foreign sources. Along with economic benefits, technological development promises to augment the future capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army. Beijing is using the porousness of Australia’s university system to facilitate technological modernisation. To curtail China’s technology transfer operations in Australian universities, the government should adopt the Department of Defence’s recommendations to strengthen the Defence Trade Controls Act, restrict visas and increase research funding.
Combating the Scourge of Radicalisation Through Technology
Australia must develop ways to combat online radicalisation to avoid depleting its human capital and mitigate risks to internal security. Federal laws preventing born and naturalised Australian citizens who fight in overseas conflicts from returning to the country are a start that we can build on to create a safer Australia. To protect Australians, the Government must recognise that not all citizens and residents who are radicalised travel overseas, and not all support for jihadism and insurgencies is physical. A huge increase in the availability of smart devices after 2010 has afforded radical recruiters greater access to potential targets across the globe. A particularly vulnerable demographic are Australian children and teenagers, who are increasingly susceptible to the influence of overseas recruiters through their extensive engagement with online media. Utilising a variety of departments, including the defence, innovation and education portfolios, is important in developing a holistic, targeted approach against online recruiters.
The manner in which South West Pacific strategy has been implemented has varied considerably. Government policy has ranged from benign neglect in the 1970’s and 1980’s through to a full intervention in 1999 in the case of East Timor. Each method has attracted some form of criticism. Current Defence Policy as outlined in the Defence White Paper 2013 and 2016 has similarly attracted attention with a stated requirement for increased engagement in the region in order to counter external influence. Australian engagement within the South West Pacific region should seek a more stable and reliable solution. This should include a greater willingness to engage with non-traditional partners in order to achieve stability in the region.
Australia prides itself on its international reputation for upholding human rights, recently solidifying this through election to the United Nations Human Rights Council. However, the figures of gender-based violence within the Asia Pacific region represent the worst levels in the world. Women within the region are suffering rampant abuse including forced and child marriage, genital mutilation and trafficking.
Australia must ensure a greater presence of women’s voices in developing policies and implementing programs, and utilise the expertise of NGO’s and grassroots organisations in providing targeted educational programming and on the ground assistance.
The South China Sea dispute is a complex security dilemma for the region. It tests the problem-solving capacity of the rules-based international system. The international society should focus on improving problem-solving mechanisms of the system than concentrating on the enforcement of the current framework. The improvements will include updating the Law of the Sea to match the modern needs and promoting territory co-ownership to resolve these kinds of territorial disputes. Greater Australian involvement in this dispute will demonstrate global leadership to South East Asian neighbours. Australia must act in a culturally sensitive manner and strategise more independently from other Western countries. Australia will need to be equally capable as China in the up contest for legitimacy and at demonstrating its vision to meet the needs of all non-western states.
The Regionalist: No. 4
Australian responses to security crises in the South Pacific have been hampered by a capability gap between Australia’s Military and Police, where the former are armed and trained for conventional war-fighting and the latter trained for peacetime policing. To better respond to these types of crises, Australia needs to bridge this capability gap by building a force armed and trained to respond to riots and violent insurrections, while also equipped for non-lethal and general policing roles. Developing an Australian Gendarmerie force will allow Australia to better respond to crises in the Pacific and complement our operations internationally.
With the ADF set to become a major player in the military cyber domain with the establishment of its Information Warfare Division, Australia must build more robust mutual understanding with its main potential adversary – the Strategic Support Force of China’s People’s Liberation Army. The norms and expectations that govern, mediate, and stabilise relations between states in traditional military and security settings are yet to mature in the cyber realm. And the two countries and their militaries have starkly disparate political and ideological systems. Establishing military cyber cooperation initiatives between Australia and China is vital to prevent unnecessary conflict.
In April 2016, Australia announced that it had awarded France’s Naval Group the AU$50 billion contract for the construction of a new fleet of 12 French Shortfin Barracuda Class submarines, to replace the ageing Collins Class fleet. This article will explore the issues faced by the Collins Class submarines throughout the 1990s to 2000s, demonstrating the need to minimise the risk of similar problems with the Shortfin Barracudas. Lessons can be learnt from implementation of the current fleet to offset future risks with the new submarines to ensure the delivery of a potent and agile naval capability to protect Australia’s national interests.
The risk of violent conflict and foreign exploitation that would surface in the absence of an effective PNG government is a major concern for Australia. If a state as central to Australia’s regional strategy as PNG were to fail, we would have a responsibility to intervene with military means to support the autonomy of the PNG government, and preserve our strategic freedom in the South West Pacific. A violent conflict is not a current likelihood, but Australia must consider the circumstances in which a large-scale military intervention could happen and how we would address it.
The international community is in a quandary on how to contain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The main policy options, tougher sanctions and threats of military force, have failed to halt North Korea’s developing nuclear and missile programs. Without China’s cooperation, there is little that Australia or the international community can do to dissuade North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The only viable long-term solution is for a renewed effort to persuade China to revise its policies towards North Korea. Australia could play an important role in any future response by the international community. Through diplomatic channels, Australian policy-makers could convince China to place increased pressure on the North Korean regime.
The rise of China and the election of US President Trump have complicated the geopolitical dynamics of the Indo-Pacific. The inter-regional power politics has left Australia in a limbo as the country is not willing to fully accept Trump’s global view, yet still remains hesitant and vigilant in regards to China’s interest throughout the Indo-Pacific. Australia should work with other regional middle powers —namely Japan and South Korea — to maintain the liberal economic and political institutions, while engaging with the United States militaristically in the region in order to create a uniform and comprehensive strategy to limit the expansion of Chinese influence.
China wants and needs to maintain economic growth, which is critical for the regime of the Communist Party to survive. To achieve this goal, China requires regional peace and stability and therefore Beijing seeks cooperation, not conflict. Its recent economic gains are indicative of a change in both economic influence and diplomatic and military might. As a result, a slow shift in regional relative power has occurred towards China and away from the US. Australian policy makers must manage the situation and our role in the region carefully, as peace and stability in South East Asia is vital for Australian energy security and trade.
Australia has made a late start in managing cyberspaces’ blowback effects – which are the negative side effects of technology advancing at a rate faster than the population’s ability to understand the changes occurring. Policy-makers now need to better focus on ensuring Australia is resilient to cyber events. To achieve this goal, cyber resilience needs to be built at the national level. The Australian government must invest now to develop indigenous cyber industries, develop greater partnership between industry, academia and government, and develop the technical capabilities, coherent national response and international cooperation needed to deal with the cyber-security challenges of the future.
To What Extent is the Privatisation of Military Services Inevitable and Desirable?
The Regionalist: No. 2
Brad Wood (First prize 2016 Future Strategic Writers Competition)
The Regionalist: No. 1
Roman Madaus (Second prize 2016 Future Strategic Writers Competition)
Future Strategic Leaders Writers Competition
All 2018 Submissions if under 35 will be considered for the 2018 Future Strategic Leaders Writers prize.
Our Future Strategic Leaders are typically those who have either joined the national security community during the last eight years or so, or are in the final phases of their studies and aspire to join the national security community.