13 April 2022
Bushmasters for Zelensky
Last week, the first three of twenty Australian-built Bushmaster armoured vehicles were shipped to Ukraine after President Volodymyr Zelensky requested them during his speech to the Australian parliament on 31 March. The request indicated that the Bushmaster, manufactured in Bendigo, had gained a reputation as a capable piece of military hardware, and is one of the success stories of Australia’s attempt to develop a defence export industry.
The Netherlands has a fleet of over 100 Bushmasters, and the United Kingdom, Japan, New Zealand, Jamaica, Fiji and Indonesia have all purchased them. The gift to Ukraine is a high-profile advertisement for the vehicle, one that the Australian government hopes will drive further interest.
In its Defence Export Strategy – released in January 2018 – the government set the widely ambitious target of becoming a top 10 defence exporter by 2028. Presently, Australia has only around half a percent of the global defence export market.
Rather than compete with major manufacturers, Australia’s current plan is to produce complementary components for its allies. The Nulka missile decoy system has been installed in over 150 Australian, US and Canadian warships, while every F-35 fighter jet assembled in Texas has Australian-made rear fuselage and tail components.
Given Australia’s small domestic market and high production costs, specialisation in component parts – alongside making armoured vehicles like the Bushmaster – may be the extent of Australia’s defence industry capabilities. This is important for developing niche skills, but it may not produce the kind of growth the government desires.
Emissaries in Honiara
US president Joe Biden plans to send Kurt Campbell, the National Security Council Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, to Solomon Islands for discussions designed to demonstrate how seriously the United States is taking Honiara’s proposed security agreement with China.
Campbell’s visit will follow that of Andrew Shearer, director-general of Australia’s Office of National Intelligence, and Paul Symon, Director-General of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, who were in Honiara last week to explain Australia’s concerns.
The fear in Canberra and Washington is that such is the pace of the relationship between Solomon Islands and China – with Honiara only switching diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in late 2019 – that the country is the most likely candidate for what Campbell has called a “strategic surprise”, in which an initiative significantly alters the region’s status quo. Australia’s objective is to prevent China from gaining a military launching pad in Pacific island countries, which could be used to attack Australia or limit Australia’s ability to manoeuvre.
Solomon Islands’ prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, has repeatedly insisted that his country would not host a Chinese military base, but the broad wording of the draft agreement has worried Canberra and Washington.
Pacific islands countries, with their limited resources and unique infrastructure requirements, have become adept at leveraging their sovereignty to gain the attention of powers that may otherwise overlook them. Therefore, these high-profile visits from the United States and Australia will not be unwelcome in Honiara – they may actually be the outcome Sogavare has been seeking.
As the Ukrainian army has retaken areas around Kyiv, there have been horrific reports of Russian soldiers using sexual violence as a weapon of war. This has included accounts of gang rape, rapes committed in front of children, and children being raped as well.
The weaponising of rape is more prevalent when the objective is to terrorise the broader population and reduce civilian resistance, as Russia is attempting to do with Ukraine. Rape is not solely about soldiers exerting dominance over women, it is a tool used to undermine social cohesion – women who are sexually assaulted in non-conflict zones are often blamed by society for the abuse they have suffered.
Research by Dara Kay Cohen at Harvard University found that sexual violence is also used as a bonding mechanism for soldiers. It creates a perverse form of loyalty and trust between soldiers who may have low morale or may lack commonalities within the unit, which often occurs in armies that use conscripts and soldiers from distinct cultural regions. It is estimated around a quarter of the Russian army is composed of conscripts, and many units contain soldiers from Chechnya and even mercenaries from Syria.
In 2008, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1820 recognised rape as both a weapon and a tactic of war, attempting to override the view that rape was simply a form of collateral damage in conflict zones. Ukraine and the International Criminal Court have indicated they will open war crimes investigations. Foreign minister Marise Payne has confirmed that two Australian specialists have been offered to the court to assist with these investigations.