Armed Forces

At least China has a policy in The Pacific

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Australian International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has attacked China’s aid to Pacific nations. Her argument was that China was lending funds to Pacific nations on unfavourable terms and constructing “useless buildings” and “roads to nowhere” in the region. Even if that were so, doesn’t this expose the Minister’s own inadequate policy? Shouldn’t she be preventing such activity by offering more favorable terms and better advice on infrastructure? Isn’t it China’s business to decide whether it deems such spending a waste?

Fierravanti-Wells said to The Australian,

You’ve got the Pacific full of these useless buildings which nobody maintains, which are basically white elephants … I’ve gone to islands and you’ll be driving along on some back road and all of a sudden you see this Chinese road crew building a road to nowhere and you think ‘hmm, what’s all that about’,”

It is all very well firing pot shots at China for its active Pacific policy but at least it has one. Indeed if the end result is that Pacific nations end up agreeing to China’s influence they do so willingly. The Minister can’t claim that these nations are not happy about the situation. Afterall had the ‘international development’ portfolio team done its homework it could see that China has pursued this policy for decades in Africa, Latin America, Pakistan and the Middle East. Who knew?

China has been a poster child of stepping up and filling the void left by The West. China understands that the nations we won’t deal with on the basis of human rights records, dictatorships and the like make perfect bed fellows which leads to even juicier returns provided said despots get the right ‘incentives’. China is not working to virtues.

How can we be surprised? UN sanctions are slapped on North Korea to bring it to heel. Two weeks later Chinese oil ships are trading with North Korea. No cleaner example of China’s disregard for world opinion. China is a master of strategy. It knows it will be stronger than the US in time. 20, 30 or 40 years  is of little concern. Just get the chess pieces in place. Find vulnerable or willing nations off the radar screen and show them love so they reciprocate in ways that strengthens Beijing’s policy directives.

There should be little surprise with this ‘transactional’ Australian government in allowing this state of affairs to occur. Because Tonga or PNG rate less important than China, Japan or the US in terms of trade dollars we apportion the same relative importance to their strategic value. That is about the level of the thinking.

China has the opposite view. It knows that buying influence in Port Moresby with new roads or bridges allows concessions where they really want them. Naval ports. The Chinese have already got East Timor to agree to a trading port which will accept ‘visits’ from PLA Navy vessels.

Our foreign policy is so poorly thought out that even Obama censured us for leasing a port to China! When we’re getting lessons from Obama on foreign policy what more proof do we want for the clueless ineptitude of our government? We’re too busy trying to bribe electorates with multi billion dollar submarine programs where the contractor isn’t even sure it can design what it promised, not to mention arriving in 50 years!

So the Minister best just understand the world we live in. With 5 prime ministers in 10 years is it any wonder we can’t formulate a coherent long term strategy? Australia can moan all it likes about China but its the smug nature of our political class who need to wake up. Complaining to PNG about it’s wealthy sugar daddy is unlikely to find a soothing voice if we offer nothing in return.

By the way, China will only be inspired to keep at it. If anything we’ve only highlighted how our of touch we are in responding and that must bring smiles all around.

Punching Pakistan – money talks but money walks too

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$33bn in 15 years.  Trump has openly called to end support for Pakistan. Money talks but money walks too. As a defence analyst at the turn of the century it was interesting to see how the open acknowledgement of support was received by Pakistan. One of the best bets in emerging markets is to back the horse backed by the US. The Karachi main stock  index soared after George W Bush began to pour aid into the country.

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It was a gullible experiment. It was no surprise to any defence chiefs that the Pakistani ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) was a fervent sponsor of Al Qaeda, LeT and Taliban terrorism for decades. Search many a cartoon on the ISI and it will have whatever Prime Minister (at the time Musharraf) on a puppet hand. The cartoons even showed Obama being stabbed in the back. Indeed one could argue that the killing of Osama bin Laden was a gift from the ISI because the world’s most wanted man was of no use to it any more. These aren’t mere coincidences.

So it is rather ironic that Trump’s calling out of what has been a glaring miscalculation for almost two decades was already being priced in the markets when Trump won the election. The Pakistani government cannot be the least bit surprised by the president’s move.

We need look no further than the Indian government now holding hands with the US. A long term arms trader with Russia has now been replaced by the Americans. As China has been cozying up with Pakistan (the funding of the Karakoram Highway (aka the China- Pakistan Peace Highway makes a good example)) the US has done nothing to thwart the glaring problem that has faced them for years until now.

After almost a decade of appeasement, it is refreshing to see leadership that doesn’t mince words on making countries make true their loyalty commitments in public. Pakistan made true on the satire behind the cartoons about the ISI.

We can live in a bubble and deny the bleeding obvious in front of us or have a commitment to draw proper red lines that rogues get clear messages that overstepping will see consequences.

Yemen – Saleh’s death is the dangerous slice in the Iran & Saudi sandwich

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Even before the Arab Spring, CM (in a previous life) wrote that Yemen was a trouble spot. It’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh (Sunni) has died of natural causes – he was assassinated in a spate of tribal violence in the capital Sana’a yesterday. No stranger to being an oppressive tyrant during his rule, after being ousted in the Arab Spring he was in recent years working with the Houthi tribe (Shi’ite) to regain power before switching back to a US backed Saudi-friendly deal maker. He proved that power is more important than religious sect. However the Houthi weren’t prepared to suffer a turncoat who betrayed them so Saleh was duly dealt with.

Why is Saleh’s death important? What it now does is give Saudi Arabia more will to take more decisive action against the Iran backed Houthi. It is no surprise that Saudi Arabia has cleaned house with the arrests of  royal family members to tighten the inner circle. It smells like the early stages of broader tit-for-tat skirmishes before all out conflict ensues. Yemen is often argued as a proxy war between the two.

While many are distracted by the US Embassy to Jerusalem as an unnecessary ‘in-the-face” action, it is a very firm line in the sand to where the US cards already lie. No big surprises. For now most Gulf States want Israel on their side to help them defend against and ultimately defeat Iran.

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At the narrow Bab al-Mandeb Strait separating Yemen and Djibouti/Eritrea, cargo ships make their way up the Red Sea to the Suez Canal, could become a major choke point. This year multiple US, Saudi and Emirati warships have been attacked by Houthi rebel forces. In January 2017 a  Saudi al-Madinah frigate was sunk in the strait. An Emirati HSV-2 swift naval craft was also put out of action in late 2015.

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Safe access to the strait is crucial at present because of Egypt’s reliance on imported LNG to maintain stable electricity supply. One LNG tanker heads to Egypt each weeknight through the canal. Just under 10% of global trade goes through it as well. Any blockage or restricted access would force ships to sail the long way around the Horn of Africa adding another 40% to the journey. This would have significant impacts on shipping and trade. Markets aren’t factoring anything at this stage.

The problem with naval conflict is that Yemen is backed by Iran which in turn is one of Russia’s best clients. Iran possesses the SS-N-22 Sunburn missile which is a supersonic anti-ship missile which even the US has no answer for. In recent years this has been upgraded to the Super Sunburn (P-270) which is even more lethal. It is a ramjet which travels at Mach-3 meaning if fired inside a 100km range then the target is likely to be toast (video here). It can be launched from a ship, submarine or land.

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Iran could blame a whole host of tribes (Sunni or Shia) sick of being under the jackboot of effective Saudi control/influence for an attack.

On December 2, Israeli jets bombed an Iranian military weapons base in Syria. Israel has warned Iran it won’t tolerate any military presence on Syrian soil. We shouldn’t forget that China has also deployed its special forces to Syria to help Assad. Clearly the Chinese see a good opportunity to clean up some of the spoils in the region. China is always happy to help out nations that are under sanction. It adds more mess into the geopolitical sphere.

While the GCC has stepped up its air attacks on Yemen post the death of Saleh, he was the only one that has been able to unite the country. Indeed it is possible that the secession of the south becomes an issue. At the time of reunification of North and South Yemen in 1990 many in the south felt their northern neighbors were pillaging too much of their oil reserve wealth. Even their private land was appropriated and spread among the Sana’a elite. Now that Saleh has gone, and Yemen fragmented again, we may see old scores settled. The Southern Movement (loyal to exiled President Hadi) in Yemen wants to take back what was stolen from them. So Saleh’s death may open a vacuum of more instability.

Iran would relish the opportunity of a fractured Yemen to further build its influence. Bab al-Mandeb may become a flashpoint to fight the proxy war. It is extremely messy, creates proper disruption and pushes Saudi Arabia and Iran closer to conflict.

Which ever way you cut it, diplomacy in the Middle East (what little there is) looks set to worsen. In a sense we are dealing with two large clients of Russia (Iran) and America (SA). Now China is siding with Russian interests by using it as a test run of its military muscle. China isn’t committing anything major but it wants to be at the negotiating table when it all goes pear shaped.

It smells very similar to the lead up to the Arab Spring. More turmoil and complacent markets which are not quite absorbing the realities of “local problems” spreading to another neighborhood. Sure we’ve seen many leaders overthrown in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and so on in the last uprising but the pressure on Saudi is mounting hence the recent crackdown internally.

The other dark horse is Erdogan in Turkey. He is facing a corruption probe over money laundering to help Iran evade sanctions and he seems keen to externalise his problems so he can shut down the local threat. He is threatening to cut off ties with Israel if the US relocates the embassy but for a man with clear ambitions to revive the Ottoman Empire that fell less than 100 years ago that is a mere formality in the future.

The flashpoint remains Yemen. It has the perfect storm of a pawn in a global game of chess. While it whiffs of local tribes seeking revenge there are too many willing to help them achieve their aims which only plays to the broader ructions throughout the rest of the Middle East. Last week Houthi rebels launched a missile attack against the UAE nuclear power plant under construction. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely

Highways to Hell. Railways to Ruin

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Zero Hedge has an interesting expose on a report that China is expediting the construction of a 6 lane highway toward North Korea’s border. It makes perfect sense and supports what CM has said about China taking action on North Korea and replacing Kim Jong Un with a puppet they can control. Forget the WW3 rhetoric. It is far cleaner to have China deal with the problem. The constant jaw-boning from Trump is to get China to hurry up. Of course there is a limit to the patience. The so-called G1112 Ji’an–Shuangliao Expressway is under construction. China’s Jilin province has even upgraded road infrastructure inside some parts of North Korea. It would be useful in getting tanks and troops to the border quickly. There is method in the madness and it is quite a common infrastructure to put in place for obvious reasons. North Korea is hugely strategic to China’s border security – a buffer from the US backed South Koreans.

Probably many are unaware that Mongolia which divides China and Russia has a railway developed by the Russians which runs on a Russian rail gauge. Mongolia is rich with resources so any raw materials exported to China must change bogeys at the border. It is the same with the Kazakh-China border. Russian rail gauges. So in the event of war, troops and supplies can be efficiently transported. Sure an enemy can bomb a railway but in terms of transporting lots of equipment and heavy armaments quickly rail is very efficient.

While the news looks startling it is nothing more than business as usual for the Chinese. Before the highway is completed the Chinese still have around 150,000 troops stationed near the border.

Try taxing the bullets if guns won’t be banned

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Sensless acts of violence as we saw several days ago in Las Vegas once again sent out calls to ban guns. The latest stats from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) can be seen here. There has been a huge shift in gun manufacture since GFC. Over 9mn guns of all types were made in the US in 2014 ( the latest figs to hand), Twice the level of 2008. Less than 5% are exported. One can see the proliferation in weapons sales by type below. Banning guns in the US is a taboo subject because there are many “responsible” gun owners as they like to view themselves. Comedian Chris Rock had perhaps the best solution if guns couldn’t be banned  – to tax bullets to exorbitant levels that the cost per shot would limit such atrocities. To be sure if Paddock went to a gun smith asking for $100,000 worth of bullets then surely that would be a red flag in itself!

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60 deaths and 500 wounded people is no laughing matter but we should ask ourselves why have weapons manufacture/purchase skyrocketed like they have? If less than 5% of guns are going overseas then the home market is the only place they are ending up. Note these stats only include civilian and police purchases not military.

While 2014 sales were down from the peak of 10.5mn ownership is still estimated by the ATF to be around 35% of households down from 50% in the 1970s.

Smith & Wesson and Ruger shares have soared as demand has fueled earnings since GFC. Since 2017 the shares have slackened off for both companies. Is this because there is a feeling of economic hope and a lower level of uncertainty? Or could it be the risk of a ban on weapons was greatly reduced when Trump took office. The latter seems most plausible.

Do we deduce that the rebound in gun sales since GFC has been driven by the fear of a lack of security? The concern that localized theft, car jackings and break & enter would rise pushing the need for self protection? The FBI stats (below) show the prevalence of crime has been in a long term decline per head of population for almost 25 years  in 2015 there has been a small bump but relatively inconsequential.

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Perceptions can often be far removed from reality however the purchase stats speak for themselves. Economically the value of crime in a recession should fall as the access to black markets is curtailed and the “bang for the buck” per stolen item is likely less meaning the risk-reward ratio is more acute.

Reading through the newsfeeds on who Paddock was, which political affiliation he had or those host of other conspiracy theories the fact remains innocent people were slaughtered. Parents, children, relatives and friends must surely carry a psychological burden which is unfathomable.

After the Port Arthur Massacre in Australia in 1996 the federal government had an amnesty where the state bought back guns. In Australia there was nowhere near the scale on an absolute or relative basis versus the US. Will the US amend the second amendment? It is unlikely but Rock’s suggestion of an exorbitant bullet tax would certainly limit the extent of damage and flag irrational purchase orders.

The other question lies in the black market. If one wants to get a gun, provided they have the financial ammunition there is little to stop such atrocities even if guns were banned. Yes Australia hasn’t seen a massacre since yet there was never a big problem in the first place. 661,000 firearms were removed from circulation. Or 1 gun for every 33 people. In the US it is c.1 gun for every person in circulation. Even if a third of households have them we are looking at 1 gun per 3 people in the US.

The Aussie government offered $500/gun average. If Trump ran the same programme (albeit 21 years later) and taking into account inflation then conservatively at $1,000 a gun he would be looking at a cost of $320bn. To put that in perspective the annual US military budget is around $680bn. So a combined spend of $1 trillion.

Let’s hope the Feds don’t take the same biases in investigations

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Here we go again. The slippery slope of ‘diversity’ which does everything else other than promote inclusivity because by its very nature it is all about singling out exclusivity. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) brazenly states in its recruitment campaign that they want to get to 50/50 women. Of course there is no issue with hiring women. No ifs or buts. If you are a male, your chances of joking the AFP will be diminished no matter how qualified you might be. What has gender got to do with work performance, let alone the desire to ‘protect and serve’? In most police forces around the world the split is 70/30 men/women. Maybe it is just reflective of individual choices in careers rather than women being selectively discouraged?

The AFP wrote in response to their post,

There’s been a lot of commentary on the fact that we’re targeting women with this recruitment. We’d like to clarify a few things.

In the AFP, women currently comprise 22% of sworn police and 13.5% of protective security officers. Our goal is to increase this proportion to 35% in both streams by 2021.

Today’s ‘special measure’ recruitment action is designed to supplement our current recruitment process – we already have a pool of suitable male and female candidates who applied recently.

This action we’re taking will provide us with additional female candidates. It’s not going to displace existing recruitment pools and it will require applicants to meet all the existing gateways.

Under Section 7D of the Sex Discrimination Act, the special measures we’re taking to achieve substantive equality between men and women in this organisation are legal.”

This lame excuse is yet another spineless rolling over to pander to political correctness. If. 20 candidates apply for 10 positions and there are 10 men and 10 women, wouldn’t it be best to hire 10 women if they were better qualified for ability than the 10 men? Or vice versa? So hire 5 extremely qualified women and 5 inept males just to keep a balance?

Last month CM spoke of the same garbage ‘diversity’ argument in the army.

Recruiters at the ADF have been told they must hire women or face relocation if they don’t comply. The recruiters say there are no jobs available for men in the in the infantry as a rifleman or artilleryman. But these positions are marked as ‘recruit immediately’ if a female applies. If a 50kg woman is in the artillery a 43.2kg M-107 shell is over 80% of her weight. An 80kg man would be lifting the same shells at around half of his weight. This is basic physics.

The West Australian newspaper reported one recruiter who said, “This is political correctness gone mad. I don’t care if it is a man or a woman – I just want to get the best person for the job.”

Yet the political correctness is promoted from the top. Defence chief, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, stressed the importance of diversity for the ADF. “A diverse workforce is all about capability. The greater our diversity, the greater the range of ideas and insights to challenge the accepted norm, assess the risks, see them from a different perspective, and develop creative solutions.”

So once again we are told to view this nonsense as completely acceptable. That the AFP puts gender above ability. Ability and passion are all that matters. Shame on the AFP for having a blonde white woman instead of one from a coloured background for maximum virtue signaling mileage. For all of the AFP’s expertise in forensic science it is an embarrassment to see them use a most flawed identikit for recruitment.

So what is next after the 50/50 target is hit? After all the AFP seeks to match society. Surely what follows is balance in sexual orientation, faith, race and other irrelevant aspects which should be irrelevant to job performance – all in the name of diversity – what a joke. Let men and women chose the AFP of their own volition and take the best of the crop.

Welcome to the nanny state.

Lawnmower man rightly points out the United Nations needs to cut its own lawn

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President Trump made a good speech to the UN with few surprises reiterating much of what he said in the State of the Union address. No doubt the mainstream media will find fault at his use of the word “Rocketman” and so forth but he was spot on to call on nations to lift their socks instead of  sponging off American taxpayers when it comes to global cooperation. His slap of the UN for becoming a bloated bureaucracy was right on the money. Indeed it needs to trim its own grass. To quote Contrarian Marketplace from 7 months ago,

“If you are in the UN of course you want it to continue. The pay scales are incredible, On top of generous income tax free pay you can get housing support, kid’s schooling assistance, health insurance and other cost of living allowances that would make most people loyal slaves to the cause. Salaries consume 74% of the  $5.15bn budget. The average salary of the 41,000 that work there is c.US$100,000. In Japan a D1-D2 level would be looking at $320,000 peer annum. No wonder they need members to keep chipping in more and more into the UN coffers to keep the circus going, Is it any wonder that pay for play is how you buy influence on councils.

The Heritage Foundation did an interesting study on the UN’s budget which shows how much it has exploded in the last 40 years. The UN’s budget has grown 10-fold in that time.

“The latest U.N. regular budget, while superficially smaller than the previous budget, made no fundamental programmatic or structural adjustments—e.g., reducing permanent staff, freezing or reducing salaries and other benefits, and permanently eliminating a significant number of mandates, programs, or other activities—that would lower the baseline for future U.N. budget negotiations. Despite the Secretary-General’s proposal to eliminate 44 permanent posts, the 2012–2013 budget actually increased the number of permanent posts by more than a score compared with the previous budget. The failure to arrest growth in U.N. employment, salaries, and benefits is especially problematic because personnel costs account for 74 percent of U.N. spending according to the U.N.’s Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ). Without a significant reduction in the number of permanent U.N. posts or a significant reduction in staff compensation and related costs, real and lasting reductions in the U.N. regular budget will remain out of reach.”

Note the peacekeeping budget is on top of the administrative side of the UN. The US currently contributes 27.1% of the total peacekeeping budget which is around $9bn.”

It is refreshing to see a world leader wake people up to unpleasant truths rather than sugarcoat everything in comforting lies. The UN does need to trim its out of control lawn. Whether the UN or NATO the US pays an overwhelming larger proportion of these budgets and has a right to point it out.

The most telling part of this speech was once again to point out to other countries to start doing their own heavy lifting. To begin looking after their own citizens and not feel guilty to protect their history and culture.

The world needs a wake up call and sadly Trump is one of the few politicians who speaks candidly. Not a Macron who promotes the idea that Americans should feel proud to be conditional citizens if they don’t like their leader, a Trudeau or Turnbull who willingly muzzles free speech to a May who treats her constituents as mugs.

Trump is far from a saint. He has many flaws however he is exposing everyday what Americans hate about the political class. The Democrats hate him (surprise, surprise) but the Republicans hardly have love for him either. DACA has provided a unique perspective on this. Failing to get GOP support he sought Nancy Pelosi of all who people who ended up being eviscerated by her own mob for working with the President towards a solution. People are growing sick and tired of gridlock which only cements his chances for a 2020 win. Americans want their country back. It’s not a difficult concept. He made it clear again in today’s speech.