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Emerging Threats and Opportunities

Two soldiers carrying another soldier by arms

The Coronavirus Pandemic

The World Health Organisation warned that the ‘number of new daily cases worldwide had hit a new high on 07 June, a sign that the pandemic appeared to be worsening.’ South America is the new epicentre of the virus, Brazil has recorded over 70,000 cases to date (at the time of publishing). The global situation suggests a ‘return to normal’ is unlikely this year. The Pacific Islands remain largely free of the virus, igniting regional discussions about restarting the tourist industry, however the first travellers are more likely to be seasonal workers entering Australia and New Zealand. Some Pacific Islands like Samoa remain cautious about reopening their borders due to concerns about domestic health capacity, particularly after a serious and deadly outbreak of measles last year, which was transmitted by a traveller from New Zealand. 

To add to the challenge faced with the Coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organisation has now confirmed an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Great Power Competition

The Philippines has frozen a February decision to withdraw the Philippines - United States Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) for six months. A CSIS analyst believes the Philippines government realised coordination of the defence of the Philippines’ interests would suffer. The Philippines may seek a better deal with the US, exploiting American desire to retain access to geographically advantageous bases and to maintain credibility with regional allies. President Trump was initially unperturbed by news of the February withdrawal, however other officials in both countries are cognisant of the strategic importance of the VFA and are likely to push hard to reinstate a similar agreement.

Australia and India agreed to strengthen security cooperation, most notably providing reciprocal access to military bases for logistical support, paving the way for increased engagement through exercises and training activities. Previous ETO highlighted arguments that in the post-pandemic, multipolar world, middle powers need to step into leadership roles and pursue multilateralism in order to maintain some sense of international order. Bilateral and multilateral agreements such as the new relationship with India may help stave off Kevin Rudd’s prediction of global anarchy.

Allied Innovation 

In a sign of international cooperation in the technology space, Defense News reported that the US has joined a G7 panel for setting ethical guidelines for the use of AI. A previous ETO called attention to CNAS’ suggestion that the US create an allied innovation base to share costs and improve technological advance. 

Irregular Warfare and Terrorism

CTC at West Point published a detailed timeline and analysis of the terrorist activity of Basil Hassan, the offshore ‘Controller’ of the 2017 ISIS plot to bomb a civilian aircraft departing Sydney International Airport, and the main engineer and leader behind ISIS’ drone capability and development. Hassan maintained strict security protocols, which the analysis suggests is the main factor behind the aircraft plot coming so close to fruition. His death has not been confirmed, and Danish intelligence officials warn Hassan may have been tempted to ‘play dead’ potentially leaving open links to Australian sympathisers.

Following from last week’s ETO, NBC reports ISIS is taking advantage of opportunities arising from COVID-19. ISIS was concentrating fighters in Iraq from Syria, strengthening militarily and financially, and improving intelligence capabilities. Attacks in some areas have increased by 200 percent while Iraqi forces have been distracted by the pandemic and imposing curfews, and tactics have become much more sophisticated. Analysis in The Guardian warned the West was ill-prepared to combat ISIS’ resurgence, which would have serious consequences in the Middle East and at home. 

Force Cohesion 

In the context of last week’s discussion of protests in the United States, the USMC has been proactive in introducing policy to ensure cohesion and capability as the diversity of its personnel continues to expand – over one third of enlisted personnel are from racial minorities. In late April, the USMC issued a ban on the public display of the Confederate flag, which the Commandant believed ‘had the power to inflame division,’ warning that it ‘had been frequently co-opted by extremist and racist groups, which presented a threat to the USMC’s core values, unit cohesion, security, and good order and discipline.’ In a strong display of leadership, he further stated, ‘it is not enough for us to remove symbols that cause division – rather, we also must strive to eliminate division itself.’ Last week further details on the directive were announced, extending the ban to items such as mugs and bumper stickers. Defence personnel might therefore benefit from education on efforts by malign actors to sew distrust and exploit perceived ‘natural’ divisions through information warfare to weaken unity in society and within opposing armed forces. Ensuring diverse recruitment representative of the general population and upholding values held commonly by the general population may also help to generate trust in the civilian-military contract.


  • The MWI’s Urban Warfare Project Podcast hosts a panel to discuss urban operations training, sharing observations based on watching brigades attack an urban training facility.
  • The International Institute for Strategic Studies has a plethora of content on its YouTube channel, but in an item related to last week’s ETO, an audio recording of a panel on modern political warfare for state and non-state actors.
  • The Council on Foreign Relations hosted a virtual roundtable on The Growing Risk of Confrontation in the South-China Sea.
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg spoke recently on NATO’s plan to 2030 recorded here. Of note is the targeted outreach to Australia (and several other non-NATO nations) expressed by the Secretary-General.

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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