Security Scholar suggests

It’s Friday! So grab a burger to go with a side of my reading, listening and watching picks below.

Myanmar’s military mindset. Kicking off today is Andrew Selth’s newly dropped tour de force report on the Tatmadaw aka Myanmar’s armed forces because, you know, there’s still a coup there. Even if you’re not focussed on Myanmar, his methodology on studying leadership is worth getting your head around and applying to China, Pakistan and other regimes. In a 45-year career spanning government and academia writing about international security and Asian affairs (including shit-tonne of books on Myanmar), Selth sheds light the country’s strategic culture and the military’s mental landscape. Breaking that landscape down into personal, institutional and national levels, he covers aspects like Buddhism, ethos, suspicions of civilians, fear of foreign interference and, super importantly, implications for interlocutors. A must-read for the civil-military, intelligence, Southeast Asian studies or strategic/military culture types. Full report here (PDF, 40 pages).

[Update] Quadrilateral thinking. Over on The Strategist, Dominic Simonelli argues why the Quad, in light of issues with ASEAN’s special envoy (sigh), could step into a greater humanitarian role in Myanmar. Work those quads!

The myth behind the might. Courtesy of El Diablo, I highly recommend this Foreign Affairs essay by Michael Beckley and Hal Brands that rigorously lays out the case for why we’ll see the end of China’s rise (yeah it’s paywalled but beg/borrow/steal). From dwindling demographics to Evergrande and economics to inert innovation, it appears Beijing’s got more than 99 problems. But puncturing myths about China’s inexorable rise isn’t cause for calm. Au contraire:

Revisionist powers tend to become most dangerous when the gap between their ambitions and their capabilities starts to look unmanageable. When a dissatisfied power’s strategic window begins to close, even a low-probability lunge for victory may seem better than a humiliating descent. When authoritarian leaders worry that geopolitical decline will destroy their political legitimacy, desperation often follows.

Target: Taiwan. If desperation sounds grim, it should. ABC journo and former CNN correspondent in Beijing, Stan Grant, follows up on Beckley and Brands, unpacking why Xi Jinping is obsessed with controlling Taiwan—”at the risk of a war that could shatter all China has built.” Also, check out his latest book With The Falling Of The Dusk (published March this year) with chapters on his firsthand experiences in China, the feelings of the Chinese people he met and his reflections on the regime and history.

Bombers and birds. For something a little different, in 1924 the BBC Radio delighted the public by broadcasting the sounds of nightingales singing alongside the cello of Beatrice Harrison (and y’all know I love the cello). In May 1942, amidst World War II the BBC was back recording the birds this time with the sounds of bombers flying overhead en route to bomb Mannheim. Read the story of how nightingales, Beatrice’s cello and war intertwined, take in the extraordinary recordings.

Battle Rhythm is a great podcast series run by two Canadian thinks, the Canadian Defence and Security Network and the Network for Strategic Analysis. Their latest episode #58 kicks off with a discussion about a reset (maaaaybe) between Ottawa and Beijing over the two Michaels and Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou. Interested in moral injury? Skip ahead to 25:20 for an interview with Stephanie Houle for her research on the Canadian Armed Forces. (49mins)

Bring da AUKUS (live). If you haven’t had enough about nuclear subs and regional order, check out this La Trobe Asia–US Embassy Canberra panel event in two weeks’ time featuring Aussie, American and Kiwi scholars. Apart from yours truly, you’ll hear from Dr Anna Powles, Senior Lecturer in Security Studies at Massey University, NZ; Assoc Prof Maria Rost Rublee, Politics and International Relations, Monash University; and Prof Peter Dean, Director, Defence and Security Institute, UWA, chaired by Dr Rebecca Strating, Executive Director, La Trobe Asia. Log on Wednesday 27 October at 2.30pm UTC+8 (Perth, Singapore etc) / 5.30pm UTC +11 (Sydney, Canberra etc). Register here.

And, to end on a lighter note, check out the The Juice Media poking fun at Scotty from Marketing with this “Honest Government Ad” on AUKUS. Image courtesy of Flickr user Marc Veraart. See y’all next week! —NS 

Security Scholar suggests: three military memoirs

Everybody needs his memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door. —Saul Bellow

This week’s instalment is a little less sassy and a bit more sober in subject matter. It’s a quick round-up of three military memoirs I’ve recently read. As Bellow’s quote suggests, a memoir is more than just a record of certain events in your life. Memoirs help create meaning out of the past in service of the present. They are a selection of memories, strung together to tell a story. Every memoirist dances between candour and concealment. The very act of writing a memoir, in some cases, is a therapeutic catharsis.

So with that in my mind, the first book for today can be described as devastatingly honest. Exit Wounds (2013) a no-holds-barred look into the life of Australian Army officer, Major General (rtd) John Cantwell. Cantwell lays out how he dealt with his demons (or, at times, not) from his time in Gulf War 1 and how trauma took its toll after gruelling deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Read it for a senior officer’s perspective on war and PTSD, especially one who grew up before mental wellbeing formed a greater part of our public conversation. My winter morning companion, I couldn’t put it down. If you prefer listening to things, check out Life On The Line’s two-part interview with Cantwell here (part 1) and here (part 2).

Next up is Survivor: life in the SAS (2021) by Mark Wales, which chronicles his dream to join Australia’s special forces, multiple deployments and struggles in dealing with moral drift. Written in no-bullshit language, it’s another exceptionally candid story of highs and lows. Read it for special forces officer’s view on how he navigated life after the SAS and how, after finding the courage to try new and daring things, he found light at the end of the tunnel. Wales’ comeback at Wharton was some much-needed inspo for the week. Life On The Line also nabbed him for a two-part interview here (part 1) and here (part 2).

The last one is a wild card, so bear with me: it’s an important memoir written by the man who literally opened and closed the gate on Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor* and a review essay of his book. While many accounts about the Indonesian military’s time in East Timor speak of the human rights violations (and rightly so), Lieutenant General (rtd) Kiki Syahnakri’s memoir Timor Timur: the untold story (2013) is an Indonesian perspective that not just defends the TNI’s actions in the province but criticises them as well. Yes it’s in Indonesian, so I strongly suggest reading Bob Lowry’s 11-page review essay on Kiki’s book (PDF), published in the Australian Army Journal. Having served as Army Attaché in Jakarta, Lowry is a fount of knowledge on the TNI (the man wrote a book on them) so he adds considerable depth to Kiki’s reflections and much-needed context to how Indonesia experienced that era. A must-read for Australian strategic and military thinkers (and super helpful to my thesis).

*As background, Kiki was posted as a junior officer on the border between East and West Timor in 1975, opening the border to Timorese fleeing to the west. Some 24 years later, as Commander-in-Chief of Martial Law in East Timor, he handed over authority for the province to then-Major General (rtd) Peter Cosgrove who headed up INTERFET after a referendum in August 1999 rejected Indonesian rule.

Fitting in with this week’s theme (one to ponder), the music is brought to you by Avenged Sevenfold, suggested by El Diablo. Image courtesy of Department of Defence. See you next week! —NS