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13 April 2022

With Grant Wyeth

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.  

War crimes 

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.




Welcome to the first week of The Election Specials. This week we ask Yun Jiang, Lavina Lee, Rory Medcalf and Hugh White: how can we fix the China relationship?

Thanks for subscribing, and thanks to our respondents for helping to expand the horizons of the national debate.

Australia’s future direction in the world is too significant to be set in silence.

Jonathan Pearlman




Yun Jiang, Lavina Lee, Rory Medcalf, Hugh White CONTINUE READING


Weekly round-up

Is China a threat not because it is strong but because it is weak?

“The recrimination likely to follow the end of the Xi regime – given his internal war on corruption – may well pose an existential threat to Chinese communism. Democratic parties can lose power and regroup, communist ones cannot.” Timothy J. LynchMElbourne Asia Review

China’s Nine-Dash Line proves stranger than fiction

“Even great powers need to justify their exceptionalism, and one method is through the use of quasi-legal rhetorical and representational justifications for their claims and activities. Maps play an important role in bolstering such strategic narratives.” Bec Strating, The Interpreter (Lowy InstitutE)

Seven lessons from Ukraine for Australia’s defence organisation

“The Ukrainians used their time since 2014 incredibly well, upending Russian and international expectations about what their forces could do. Australia needs to do the same ... When it comes to Australian military power, we have not spent the last two decades wisely.” Michael Shoebridge,The Strategist (ASPI)


China and Australia – economic decoupling?

“Australia’s capital flow to China is set to remain minimal, with the departure of Australian services companies and, more recently, consultancies facilitating Australian investment in China. Investment the other way is not expected to recover in the near future either.” Diane (Dan) Hu, Asialink Insights

DFAT needs a domestic policy division

“Imagine, for example, investigators from the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption advising their regional counterparts. Or domestic violence policymakers in state and territory governments sharing their knowledge and experience to help protect women and girls throughout the region.” Hugh Piper, The Strategist (ASPI)


The Shortest History of Democracy

John Keane

In a time of grave uncertainty about the future of our planet, the radical potential of democracy is more important than ever.

From its beginnings in Syria-Mesopotamia – and not Athens – to its role in fomenting revolutionary fervour in France and America, democracy has subverted fixed ways of deciding who should enjoy power and privilege, and why. For democracy encourages people to do something radical: to come together as equals, to determine their own lives and futures.

In this vigorous, illuminating history, acclaimed political thinker John Keane traces its byzantine history, from the age of assembly democracy in Athens, to European-inspired electoral democracy and the birth of representative government, to our age of monitory democracy. He gives new reasons why democracy is a precious global ideal, and shows that as the world has come to be shaped by democracy, it has grown more worldly – American-style liberal democracy is giving way to regional varieties with a local character in places such as Taiwan, India, Senegal and South Africa.

In an age of cascading crises, we need the radical potential of democracy more than ever. Does it have a future, or will the demagogues and despots win? We are about to find out.Read More



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