About Natalie Sambhi

Natalie Sambhi is co-editor of Security Scholar. She is also Founder and Executive Director of Verve Research, an independent research collective focussed on the relationship between militaries and societies in Southeast Asia.

A rights-based approach to women in combat

The sun sets behind a C-17 Globemaster III as Soldiers wait in line to board the aircraft taking them back to the United States Nov. 17 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. C-17s can carry payloads up to 169,000 pounds and can land on small airfields. The C-17 is deployed from the 437th Airlift Wing at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Erik Gudmundson)

Of the Defence issues raised over the past 12 months, none has been more controversial than the government’s decision to lift a ban on gender discrimination in the military which means women are eligible to serve in close combat units, including special forces.

In Australia, we value the principles equality and fairness and the right of the individual not to be discriminated on the basis of race, religion, age or gender. But there are specific challenges to applying a rights-based approach to the profession of the arms. This is because there are strong historical and cultural legacies surrounding ideas of the military, warfare and masculinity.

Historically, the military and warzones are not imagined and understood as a context for women as soldiers. Australian women appeared in support roles such as nurses, drivers, workers, mothers and later carers of returned soldiers. In this sense, gender reform is not just about enshrining the equal rights for women in the military but must, over time, break down traditional, cultural and historical understandings of warfare, the military and masculinity.

This is challenging because in the military, while the individual is important, the “group” (that is, the military) and survival of the nation and its interests are paramount. Continue reading

Hedging our bets in Uruzgan

SOTG in Gizab

Uruzgan police chief Matiullah Khan had nothing to lose when he joined President Karzai in criticising an ADF raid in the province.

Contradicting the official narrative, Khan and Amir Mohammad Akhundzada, governor of Uruzgan, allege they were not consulted ahead of the ANSF–ADF raid during which two Afghan men, a 70-year old iman and his 30-year old son, were killed. Furthermore, Khan says his troops were not involved as required by memoranda of understanding.

But Defence Minister Smith insists the raid targeted confirmed insurgents, and that it was partnered (80 Afghan troops to 60 ADF) and authorised. An ISAF media release states that the operation was planned and coordinated with Afghan officials, including the provincial governor.

While there are uncertainties in both stories (including whether the men were confirmed as insurgents before or after they were killed), there’s also the matter of trying to work out which side is more or less telling the truth.

We can’t assess the facts ourselves to determine who is right so we’ll have to hedge our bets one way or another. But the options are grim.

If the Minister and ISAF are telling the truth, they’ll still be backing a police chief that’s willing to lie to save his skin. To defend their facts, they’ll either have to say Khan is being dishonest or admit he lacks information about his own province. If Khan’s telling the truth, he’ll score points amongst Afghans being seen to admonish the west but, more importantly, we’ll be forced to question the credibility of our own government.

Neither option is desirable. It’s a stunning example of the double bind Australia finds itself in regarding the truth in Uruzgan. But either way, Matiullah Khan wins and we lose.

Image courtesy of Flickr user ISAFmedia.

Photo of the day: Canada in the Asian Century

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An excellent shot from RIMPAC 2012. Soldiers from Company A, 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, move to clear a house during a Military Operations on Urban Terrain exercise at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows.

These soldiers form part of the 1,400 person Canadian contingent at this year’s Rim of Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise. Canada has participated in the biennial exercise before, but this year some commentators note a few changes: this is the largest-ever contribution, and Canadians have for the first time occupied senior leadership positions within the exercise.

In their opinion, Canada’s involvement in RIMPAC parallels with increasing interest in the Asia Pacific. Others suggests greater responsibility is the product of good leadership shown in Afghanistan, Libya and Haiti.

Not knowing much about Canada and its interests in Asia, I found this Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada 2012 National Opinion Poll on Canadians’ views on Asia. With 67% of Canadians believing that in a decade the influence of China will surpass that of the US but 66% believing that China’s growing military power is a threat to the region, it’s no surprise the country is more engaged with the Asia Pacific.

For a great infographic summarising the results of the poll, click here (PDF).

Image courtesy of Flickr user PACOM.

Our new partners at CIMSEC

We’re really pleased to announce a new partnership with the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC). The Center is a non-profit, non-partisan think tank based in the US. It brings together forward-thinkers from a variety of fields to examine the capabilities, threats, hotspots, and opportunities for security in the maritime domain.

This partnership allows both our organisations to foster discussion and interaction between scholars, military officers and the general public in both our countries on areas of mutual security interest.

We encourage you to visit their excellent blog NextWar which will, from time to time, feature cross posts from Security Scholar and other partner blogs.

Image courtesy of Flickr user DVIDSHUB.

Indonesia series post #6: Australia-Indonesia Relations by the Numbers

Inspired by Cogitasia’s regular blog feature ‘By the Numbers: the data driving Asia’, as the final post in this week’s Indonesia series, I’ve put together a snapshot of developments in Australia-Indonesia relations using figures from this week’s Annual Leaders’ Meeting.

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The number of refurbished C-130H aircraft granted to Indonesia by the Australian Government for boosting its humanitarian operational capability. Indonesia will be responsible for future maintenance costs of these aircraft. According to President Yudhoyono, “This is half-grant, half-purchase.”

$578.4 million

The amount pledged by Australia to assist poverty reduction in Indonesia in 2012-13. Funding will support Indonesia’s development priorities in areas such as education, infrastructure and social protection.

1000

The number of visas that will be available annually (increased from 100) to Indonesians to work and holiday in Australia. Only a small proportion of Indonesians will be able afford the pricey trip downunder but it gets the ball rolling in helping to build people to people links.

2 and 1

The number of new bilateral and trilateral initiatives announced. Charles Darwin University and Nusa Cendana University in Kupang will forge new ties as the Australia-Indonesia schools partnership program (BRIDGE) is expanded this year.  A bilateral table-top exercise between the ADF and TNI—Exercise Garuda Kookaburra—and a new trilateral exercise between the US, Australia and Indonesia (and possibly Chinese observers) will take place in the Northern Territory in 2013.

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The number of translators ABC News 24 had on hand to translate the President’s State Dinner address in Darwin delivered in Indonesian. Thankfully, this was corrected the next day during Prime Minister Gillard and President Yudhoyono’s joint press conference.

Indonesia series posts I, II, III, IV and V.

Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Indonesia series post #5: Like a Boss

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Indonesian Army Sergeant Poltak Siahaan is chaired by his team members to receive the trophy for Champion Shot International from Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison, at this year’s Australian Army Skill at Arms Meeting (AASAM).

AASAM is open to all ADF members and also attracts champions from 16 international defence forces.

Image by Sergeant John Waddell, courtesy of Department of Defence.

Indonesia series post #4: Need to know about Indonesia’s military (TNI)?

Friend and online colleague Evan Laksmana has compiled an excellent reading list of books on the Indonesian military (TNI), and I encourage those interested in Australia’s relations with Indonesia to check it out. Understanding the military’s role in Indonesia is necessary in understanding the opportunities and limitations of closer cooperation with Australia.

If you’re pressed for time or unable to access a library with those books, here are some relevant reports on the state of TNI’s reform (in reverse chronological order):

  • Evan Laksmana, ‘Stirring from Beyond the Borders? American Military Assistance and Defense Reform in Indonesia’, Asia Centre, Paris, July 2011, available here.
  • Leonard C. Sebastian and Iisgindarsah, ‘Assessing 12-year Military Reform in Indonesia: Major Strategic Gaps for the Next Stage of Reform’, RSIS Working Paper, April 2011, PDF here.
  • Bruce Vaughn, ‘Indonesia: Domestic Politics, Strategic Dynamics, and U.S. Interests’, Congressional Research Service, January 2011, PDF here.
  • Human Rights Watch, ‘Unkept Promise: Failure to End Military Business Activity in Indonesia’, 2010, available here.
  • Marcus Mietzner, ‘The Politics of Military Reform in Post-Suharto Indonesia: Elite Conflict, Nationalism, and Institutional Resistance’, East-West Center Washington, 2006, PDF here.

Alternatively, Samantha Michaels and Ulma Haryanto produced this three part series on the state of TNI’s business practices, published in the Jakarta Globe in May this year.

Of note is Sebastian and Iisgindarsah’s report for its graphs and diagrams that show Indonesia’s defence spending, annual peacekeeper contributions, country origin of TNI armaments (the US ranks 1st, Australia 9th), and comparisons with other Southast Asian nations’ defence spending.

From the same report is a snapshot of the readiness levels of TNI’s armaments:

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If I’ve missed anything, feel free to send me suggestions. Happy reading!

Image source: Sebastian and Iisgindarsah, 2011.

Indonesia series post #3: special forces and foreign policy (part II)

In yesterday’s post (part I), I touched on how the goals of drawing closer to Indonesia and developing counter terrorism capabilities were met by encouraging joint exercises between SASR and Kopassus, starting in 2003. In this post, I explore the trickle down effects this relationship has had on Asian Pacific partners, their respective foreign policies, and regional security.

First, SASR’s long-standing and robust engagement with Kopassus has provided a testbed for US engagement with the unit. The US has been able to observe Australia’s handling of challenges such navigating sensitivities over human rights records. For instance, in 2003 Kopassus’ commander was denied entry into Australia for a meeting on joint exercises as he was at that time still on trial for suspected human rights abuses. In retaliation, the commander in question Major General Sriyanto cancelled the visit. But times have changed. Continue reading

Indonesia series post #2: Insight into Indonesia’s President SBY

Unfortunately, the Indonesian President’s speech at the State Dinner in his honour last night was cut short as the ABC News 24 lacked Indonesian translators. In absence of that speech, here are some recent yet important speeches that provide some insight into his sentiments about Australia and about Indonesia’s place in the Asian Century.

Speech delivered to the Australian Parliament, Canberra, 10 March 2010, available here.

  • Shorter SBY: Australia and Indonesia have a strong relationship as friends, neighbours and strategic partners. Both countries should work together as equal stakeholders in a common future, overcome stereotypes and tap into potential of the relationship.
  • Memorable moments: SBY paying respects to Australians who died during humanitarian operations in Indonesia, praising early Australian support for Indonesian independence, and using the words “fair dinkum”.

Keynote Address to IISS Asia Security Summit, Shangri-La Dialogue, Singapore, 1 June 2012, available here.

  • Shorter SBY: Asia Pacific requires more durable security architecture achieved by “dynamic regionalism” and a sense of Asian Pacific community. Middle and small states should work to ensure relations between major powers are stable and peaceful.
  • Indonesia’s increased defence spending to be used for increasing capacity to protect borders, to counter transnational threats, to increase its contribution to peace-keeping operations worldwide, to be better prepared for military operations other than war, and to conduct special operations.
  • Memorable moments: SBY using the words “win-win strategic culture”, citing the successful rescue of Indonesian hostages from Somali pirates by the navy and special forces, and being super optimistic.

Speech ‘The Development of Asia-Pacific Geopolitics in the 21st Century and the Effect on Indonesia’ to TNI and POLRI Officer Candidate School, Bandung, 29 June 2012, excerpts here and here (in Indonesian):

  • Shorter SBY: Strong and sustainable peace in the region is achievable. Transparency in increasing military capability and confidence building measures are essential in preventing mistrust between states. Indonesia will continue to build comprehensive partnerships and conduct constructive diplomacy in the region.
  • Memorable moments: SBY losing his cool and berating students in the front row for falling asleep.

Overall, these speeches represent a determination on behalf of SBY to engage with the region and really promote Indonesia’s burgeoning presence in regional and international terms.

Indonesia series post #1: SASR, Kopassus and foreign policy (part I)

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In today’s Canberra Times, Athol Yates highlights the foreign policy use of the ADF. He states:

Employing the military internationally for both hard (military) and soft (non-military) power purposes has become an effective sign of the government’s international relations intent. For example, having the Air Force’s C-17 with its distinctive Australian livery arrive in Japan following last year’s tsunami visibly signals Australia’s solidarity with the country far more than providing funds to country-independent organisations such as the Red Cross or funds such as the Pacific Disaster Appeal.

Another example is the relationship between the SASR and Indonesia’s special forces unit Kopassus as an important part of Australia-Indonesia relations and an extension of Australia’s regional foreign policy goals.

The relationship has been an important component of rebuilding Australia-Indonesia military ties after they were cut in 1999 in response to allegations of human rights abuses by TNI in East Timor. The reinstatement of SASR-Kopassus ties in 2003 simultaneously addressed a need to further develop a counter terrorism capability as well as repair the defence relationship.

The units now conduct a number of training exercises, sharing skills and cooperation in areas such as counter terrorism and jungle warfare. The relationship has also extended into other capability areas with a number of Kopassus members undertaking Defence-sponsored English language study from May to June this year, supervised by SASR personnel.

Part II: More on special forces units and foreign policy

Image taken by Corporal Ricky Fuller, courtesy of Department of Defence.