Identification and analysis of small arms ammunition in Libya

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The Small Arms Survey has recently released my latest long form report, examining the variety of Small Arms Ammunition (SAA) observed in Libya during and immediately after the recent conflict. This is the first in a series of baseline assessments of arms and ammunition holdings in Africa and the Middle East that I intend to author. The next report in the series will focus on SAA identified in Syria.

An extract from the press release:

The assessment is based on photos of cartridge headstamps, cartridges, and ammunition packaging, as well as shipping documents pertaining to small arms ammunition transfers. Most of these records are from Tripoli and were gathered during the first five months of 2012, with additional photos from Ajdabiya, Benghazi, and Misrata. This baseline will serve as a valuable tool for governments, NGOs, and other actors involved in understanding and stemming the illicit flow of small arms ammunition in the region … The Headstamp Trail forms part of the Small Arms Survey’s Security Assessment in North Africa, a multi-year project to support those engaged in building a more secure environment in North Africa and the Sahel-Sahara region.

The report can be downloaded and viewed here.

Image copyright: Damien Spleeters

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My military is bigger than yours …

I think a bit of context needs to be given to the ABC’s report, ‘Indonesian President vows to outgun Australia‘. Published the same day our new Defence White Paper (PDF) was released, the story’s headline made Indonesia look particularly hawkish. I’d like to offer my thoughts to clear up what Indonesia’s military modernisation is and isn’t about.

First, let’s look at the expanded version of what President SBY actually said (apologies for any errors in translation):

The Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia is non-negotiable. Our military forces must be larger and more modern than neighbouring countries, like Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and so on. Given our vast country, the Indonesian military forces must absolutely be larger.

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Photo of the Day: POLRI and Gangnam Style

How do Indonesia’s police do crowd control? ‘Gangnam Style’, of course. With May Day bringing thousands of demonstrators to Indonesia’s streets protesting for better workers’ rights, Indonesian policewomen in Surabaya danced to the hit song by Psy to keep crowds happy. Well played, POLRI PR, well played.

Video here.

Image credit: Agence France-Press via Jakarta Globe

Indonesia’s strategic flexibility: something something devil, something something detail

Brad Nelson has a neat overview in today’s Jakarta Globe of Indonesia’s strategic options vis-à-vis China and the US. Enabled by what he calls ‘strategic flexibility’ (which I think is actually an extension of Indonesia’s so-called ‘dynamic equilibrium’ approach), Indonesia can stay neutral, pick China or the US, be a mediator/conduit or play the big kids off against one another.

Nelson rightly identifies Indonesia as attempting to pursue a ‘conduit’-type role. In fact, to be an effective conduit and exert real influence on the US and China, Nelson prescribes Indonesia build goodwill as a conflict mediator and regional problem-solver.

In theory, it’s a sensible option but I have my misgivings about how it’s presented in relatively unproblematic terms. I say this because I’m reminded of comments made at a recent workshop by a participant challenging Indonesia’s image as a neutral party in South China Sea disputes. They asked, how could Indonesia be a legitimate mediator if it refuses mediation itself on issues such as the Natuna Islands?

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Indonesia and ‘strategic trust’: no-one knows what it means, but it’s provocative

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Here’s my latest post on The Strategist, and kudos to the executive editor for letting me keep the phrase ‘dropping the mic’. 

One of the main features of the Indonesian President’s speech to last week’s Jakarta International Defense Dialogue was the concept of ‘strategic trust’. Admitting this was difficult to define, he referred to it as ‘an evolving sense of mutual confidence between nations – particularly between government and militaries’ that enables parties to work together more effectively and, more importantly, peacefully.

President SBY offered two examples from Indonesia’s own history where strategic trust has been the glue in otherwise shattered relationships: between Indonesia and East Timor (a poignant reference given East Timor’s PM Xanana Gusmão was sitting in the audience), and between the Indonesian government and GAM in Aceh. His message is that it’s something that can bring bitter enemies together very gradually over time, ‘brick by brick’, and it has to reach from top leadership to the bottom rung.

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Indonesia and the US pivot

Admiral Samuel Locklear III, the Commander of United States Pacific Command, with Commander of the Indonesian National Defense Forces Admiral Agus Suhartono.

If you’re looking for an Indonesian perspective on the US pivot, check out Dewi Fortuna Anwar’s NBR and Asialink essays. Her NBR essay, in particular, sees the pivot as reversing the perception that the US neglected Southeast Asia during the Bush years. According to DFA, it was a time when ASEAN and other Asia-Pacific partners could develop new relations between themselves to manage China’s rise. But since then, as China has swung its weight around in unfavourable ways, the region (including Indonesia) is glad the US is ‘back’, so to speak.

In terms of the pivot’s substance, DFA notes Indonesia’s concern that too much emphasis on the military dimension risks stoking regional tension (something that Ashton Carter addressed in his Jakarta International Defense Dialogue speech this week). DFA explains that the Marines in Darwin are close enough to the US-owned Freeport mining operations in Papua to raise suspicions of intervention. She concedes this is highly unlikely but cites past US and Australian interference across the archipelago as the historical background for this fear.

These messages are reiterations of Indonesia’s foreign policy and strategic positions, particularly with regards to hedging great powers and promoting regional cooperation. The utility of DFA’s essays therefore is to provide Australian and American audiences with an account of Indonesia’s official perspective (she’s still, after all,  Deputy Secretary for Political Affairs to the Vice President). As time goes by, and proposals like the HADR exercise between Australian-Indonesian-American forces come to fruition, there’ll be a greater indication of how the pivot has played out for Indonesia, but until then, watch this space.

British ‘Boots on the Ground’ in Mali

By N.R. Jenzen-Jones

RAF Reg (AFP)RAF Regiment gunners, aboard a RAF C-17ER, in front of a French VAB SAN (armoured ambulance variant). Credit: AFP.

Royal Air Force (RAF) Regiment troops, possibly based out of Honington or Wittering, have been deployed to Bamako as a force protection (FP) element for RAF operations in support of the French intervention in Mali. France’s Opération Serval is being supported by two RAF C-17ER transport planes, operated by No. 99 Squadron from RAF Brize Norton. These aircraft are to ferry French armoured vehicles from the Évreux-Fauville Air Base in France, to Bamako.

Whilst the British government has claimed there will be ‘no UK boots on the ground’, that is not strictly true. In this video, RAF Regiment FP elements can be seen at Bamako Airport with a range of field kit, small arms, and other equipment. The RAF tactical recognition flash and RAF Regiment ‘mudguard’ badges can be clearly seen (see examples below). French VAB (Véhicule de l’Avant Blindé) series armoured personnel carriers are unloaded from the C-17ER. RAF regiment gunners fought alongside US Marines during the insurgent attack on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, last September. The attack left two US Marines of Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211) dead, 6 AV-8B Harrier II ground attack aircraft destroyed, and two more damaged. Members of No. 5 RAF Regiment Force Protection Wing and elements 2/10 Battalion US Marines then fought to regain control of the airfield, capturing one insurgent, and killing fourteen others. Continue reading