Skip to main content

Emerging Threats and Opportunities


From Foreign Policy, a reflective piece upon the employment of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the resultant Cold War arms race. This theme was picked up by the AIIA arguing for the endurance of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

In a thought-provoking piece from the Modern War Institute, the idea is posed of swarming drone technology as a weapon of mass destruction (thereby intimating an ability to deter using such capability). The threat posed by swarming drones is an idea explored by terrorism expert Audrey Kurth Cronin in her recent book, Power to the People (a short review by Lawrence Freedman is available here). This book explores the “means” component of the threat equation, exploring the factors that led to dynamite and the AK-47 being associated with significantly greater threats from terrorists and insurgents, in the late 19th century and mid-20th century respectively. Cronin argues that these same factors exist with regards to the weaponising of swarming drones today. This examination suggests that weapons of mass disruption might be a more accurate concept, wherein the disruptive effects of such technology generates a deterrence effect.

Major Power Competition

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s speech to the Aspen Security Forum on 5 Aug is notable in continuing to elaborate upon the weight placed by Government upon the issue of Competition. 

From the Modern War Institute, a podcast interview on Competition, Conflict, and the Future of Irregular Warfare. This interview offers insight into the nuances of competition from the Pentagon’s perspective. Of interest, the key theme from this podcast is the need for “exquisite understanding as more important than exquisite technology” in order to ensure militaries understand the nature of the conflict with which they are engaged.

Also via podcast format, the University of California’s Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation have published a virtual mini-series of lectures on the topic of Great Power Competition in the 21st Century.

From The Diplomat, an analysis of the recent border conflict between China and India, which concludes India missed a range of strategic signals that offered an indication of impending engagement.

Also from Modern War Institute, a podcast interview with Col Curt Taylor, Commander 5th Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB), activated in May. Col Taylor disputes the context of Major Power Competition makes the role of the SFAB more important, arguing that in the context of Anti-Access/Area-Denial systems, mentoring presence needs to be established pre-crisis. In making this argument, Col Taylor cites the example of a mentoring team in Tbilisi, Georgia, undertaking routine capacity building at the time of the Russian military invasion in 2008. The 5th SFAB will be orientated toward the Indo-Pacific theatre.

From Small Wars Journal, examination of the role of the Special Operations capability within Major Power Competition. This piece urges caution regarding terminology such as “unorthodox deterrence.” A competing view is presented by Hal Brands of the American Enterprise Institute, who argues enduring value in Special Operations roles of ‘gathering information, working with allies and partners, imposing costs, handling crisis response and undertaking strategic raids.’ He also that Special Operations continue addressing counter-terrorism threats as a ‘critical contribution’ to allow other aspects of government to pivot to great-power competition challenges. Of particular interest from this discussion is the idea of ‘cost-imposing strategies’. Although dated, this document from the Centre for a New American Security offers a primer on what is meant with this terminology.

Cyber / Information Domain

From Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Centre, a detailed analysis about how the Chinese Communist Party is engaging in the online shaping of global narratives. This paper echoes a paper by the Centre for a New American Security titled Dangerous Synergies, that explored the way in which Chinese and Russian online influence operations seemed to be learning from each other. This view of co-adaptation is more likely accurate, compared to the view argued from NATO STRATCOM analysis of strategic narratives, which sees China and Russia as strategic allies.

From the Atlantic Council Digital Forensics Lab, analysis of Israeli – Iranian exchanges. This piece amplifies the aforementioned lens of proxy competition in the Middle East. It also amplifies the idea of deterrence through disruptive technologies, noting that ‘each side is attempting to establish and re-establish credible deterrent red lines to persuade the other side to cease and desist.’

The Regional View

This week’s regional view focusses on the Middle Eastern Region, with the explosion in Beirut beginning to reverberate. Wired have produced an interesting primer explaining the chemistry and physics involved in the explosion. This event has seemingly sparked widespread animosity toward government inaction, in turn leading to the resignation of the Lebanese government. Popular anger manifest in protests against the undermining effects of regional power interference in Lebanese affairs, echoing the grievances of the Cedar Revolution of 2005. Several analysts have thus highlighted how proxy competition continues to generate instability in the region, from Libya to Yemen (also here behind The Australian firewall). This theme of proxy competition throughout the Middle East is analysed in detail by New America. The Diplomat argues that the Beirut disaster also serves a cautionary note for Southeast Asian port facilities.


  • AIIA are hosting an online presentation on 20 Aug from the High Commissioner of India to Australia, discussing the India-Australia relationship.
  • The AARC Seminar Series will be hosting Dr Charles Edel of the U.S. Studies Centre discussing the US-Australia Alliance and the role of Land Power within Indo-Pacific Competition in the R1 Theatre at 1200-1300 on 27 Aug. Registration can be done through EventBrite here.

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.

Using the Contribute page you can either submit an article in response to this or register/login to make comments.