Posts by JohnBruni:

    The 2016 American Election & the prospect for political instability in the United States

    December 12th, 2016

    By John Bruni.


    With weeks to go before the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States (January 20, 2017), many alarming articles have been written, most apocalyptically forecasting the end of the United States as a global power and the end of the US international order founded back in 1945.

    It would be easy to dismiss all of these articles as the febrile imaginings of progressive elites around the world, reeling at the prospect of Trump as US commander-in-chief – the antithesis of political correctness – were it not for the one sword hanging over the president-elect – outgoing President Obama’s investigation into claims that the Russian Federation had a hand in supporting Trump’s bid for the presidency.

    While Trump has dismissed these claims outright, they are supported by the CIA, itself an instrument of American power long used to politically interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries.

    With Obama prosecuting this line of inquiry so close to Trump’s inauguration, this could tip the American polity into a crisis the likes of which we have not seen since the Civil War.

    Imagine, millions of voters (many of them armed) who passionately supported Trump as the anti-establishment candidate and believed that their system had delivered to them a person who could ‘drain the swamp’ of corrupt and unseemly dealings in Washington D.C., discovering they had delivered a Russian stooge to the White House.

    This, if proven, would delegitimize the November 2016 election results in one stroke.

    While we have no historic template for what may happen next, it is doubtful that the Democratic Party would celebrate the almost certain impeachment of a sitting president. Those who voted for Trump may well turn against him if indeed they were betrayed by him, but they will not vote for the Democratic Party and will, no doubt, be wary of any ‘establishment candidate’ the Republicans may put up to fill the void – including Vice President Mike Pence. Steady hands may well be needed to guide the ship of state through this rough passage. Could it be that Obama may even be given a third term in office?

    If it were discovered that Russia had directly or indirectly brought Trump to power, the US national security establishment may consider Trump and a ‘penetrated’ Republican party a threat to national security. Normal democratic processes under these circumstances may well be expected to be suspended pending an investigation.

    But even were this extreme scenario too much for people to consider, there are other options e.g. Trump’s possible impeachment; his possible assassination with the immediate aftermath being a rudderless Washington D.C., where the progressive elite’s political agenda might well be considered the lesser evil, while the conservatives tear themselves apart.

    This prospect might not be as dramatic as the first one laid out, but a political crisis of the nature of scenario two which, if placed on a slow burn, can eat away at the soul of the United States leaving it a much smaller entity and leaving the field open to strategically smaller, more hungry states like Russia and China.

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    Darkness before the dawn?

    December 7th, 2016

    By John Bruni.


    The fall of Aleppo & a Russian/Iranian role in a possible peace settlement for Syria

    The end seems nigh for rebels holed up in the divided and besieged Syrian city of Aleppo. Once known for its cultural and artistic magnificence, the city now lies in ruins, victim of the ongoing civil war that has wracked Syria for more than five years.

    And while the West looks on in shocked disbelief that the fighting has gone on so long and has taken such a toll – some 400,000 people killed; 4.8 million having fled Syria as refugees so far and with another 6.6 million internally displaced by the fighting, the West’s ability to shape events on the ground in favor of the rebels has entirely evaporated.

    On the other side of the ledger, Syrian government forces together with their Russian, Iranian, and Hezbollah backers, have demonstrated strength in the face of the West’s ‘absence of effort’. They are far more committed to save the Alawite-dominated government of Bashar al-Assad than the West is to seek the emergence of a functional multi-sectarian/multi-ethnic post-Assad Syria.

    But it should be noted that it is likely that Moscow and Tehran’s backing of Assad is conditional. They would not want to be caught up in Syria’s internal struggles forever. They are in Syria to showcase to the world that both Russia and Iran are serious military powers, worthy of respect at home and abroad.

    Consequently, it is unlikely that their support for Assad will go beyond the Syrian Army’s recapture of Aleppo. Indeed, it is highly likely that once this objective is achieved, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, may well pressure Assad into accepting a ceasefire and a more permanent peace accord.

    Would this be considered a victory for Assad?

    Well, having fought back against rebels and retaining control some two-thirds of Syrian territory, (including its major cities), gives Assad the upper hand in any peace settlement. It may not be what Assad’s inner circle considers an outright victory over all of Syria, but it would be enough to ensure the Alawite dominated clique in Damascus can consider its options.

    It is unlikely that the Syrian Army is strong enough to launch unilateral strikes against remaining rebel held areas, post-Aleppo, without the logistical and combat support of Russia and Iran, and these powers know that. Furthermore, the West’s less than tepid support of their local proxies are unlikely to change, leaving Syria and any peace process in the hands of Moscow and Tehran. Probably more so now that US President-elect Donald Trump has suggested that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin could ‘get along’.

    While the bloodshed and shear human misery in Syria has been gruesome to witness, ironically, it looks as though peace may be in sight. It won’t be a peace based on Western norms and conditions and as such, may not be considered legitimate in the eyes of some because Assad and his forces fought so remorselessly to get themselves to this position. And we have to remind ourselves, that the battle for Aleppo is far from over. With Aleppo on the verge of falling to Syrian government forces, it is impossible to conceive of Assad accepting any peace overtures at this critical juncture, as the latest Sino-Russian veto against a UN initiated ceasefire plan for Aleppo has shown.

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    Adelaide Conference Surfaces $20 billion Submarine Issue

    December 21st, 2014



    By John Bruni.


    In a critical move for the National debate on the Future Australian Submarine Project, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) National President, Air Vice Marshal Brent Espeland (Rtd), suggests an agenda for a national debate on building the next generation submarines in Australia and has called for a National Conference to air the issues for 24-26 March 2015. “This debate needs to inform the public on the issues of one of the biggest defence programs in our history” AVM Espeland said. It needs to happen, the timing is right and Adelaide is the appropriate venue for historical, political, economic and public interest reasons.

    The Federal Government is due to make a further announcement on the sub program shortly and we know that the media and the political commentary relating to the Collins Class has not been a balanced one. It is important for the discourse to be informed, in a balanced and non-selective way and encompass all the issues from capabilities, through sovereignty, alliances, reliance, access to design and other risks, defence industry, the relevance of hull worthiness, economic value and finally, to people and skills. One of our most important strategic defence issues and one that we know from the 2015 Defence White Paper Consultation Process that the Australian public are seeking the full story.

    Hargraves Institute Advocate for SA, Mark Ryan, a retired Wing Commander from a Maritime Patrol and acoustics intelligence background had a 25-year relationship with the submarine force. “I lived through the Collins Class building program and witnessed the growing pains of DSTO, industry and the Navy in trying to get our first of class submarine build right”. “The public only get to hear one side of the story,” Ryan says, the public does not hear of the patrols, the operational and strategic missions that our submariners successfully undertake. The public only hears the dud sub media barrage of whenever anything goes wrong, it hits the press and in a big way. I can assure you that our submarine force has one of the highest standings in the international submarine world and the boats cut the mustard when they have to. Ryan is a strong advocate for making sure that the new future submarine option provides the best operational capability for Australian submariners and is the best decision for Australia.

    The submarine is a countries’ most valued strategic asset, especially, if it is perceived by other countries to be highly operational and lethal, just as the Collins Class is in our arena of operations. Dr John Bruni of SAGE International, one of Australia’s leading commentators on our defence and strategic issues understands that the public is not seeing a balanced argument on the debate on how our government of the day should proceed with deciding where and what type of submarine should be Australia’s next strategic platform.

    South Australian industry has the most to gain and lose by the decision of where to build. The overriding factor, according to Ryan, is that the platform must be the most capable and most operational that Australia can achieve in design and operational ability. We must understand that there is no submarine in the world that currently meets Australia’s unique operational requirements. To replace the Collins Class we need a brand new design, incorporating all the lessons learnt from the Collins experience and that of other submarine operators. We also need the assistance of our allies in making sure that the weapons systems and electronic gadgetry is the best fit for what we aim to achieve in our submarine.

    What is the impact upon the Australian ship building and manufacturing sector if our $20 billion dollars is spend totally overseas on an off the shelf system as opposed to building it in Australia with our skilled workforce, our ship yards and our industry? This will be one of the most difficult decisions the federal government will have to make. It is one that they must get right, and it is one that must sit well with the people of Australia. Presently, the political debate has been very one sided and although complex it has not been balanced nor has it been right. Some of our commentators cannot comment. We have not heard from the ASC, nor have we heard from some of our elite submarine captains and crew.

    The people of Australia need to know, they need a public forum, a national discussion on these very important issues so that they understand the significance of this issue and the importance of the process that is going to be taken by government and that they are getting it right.

    Submarines are lethal, they are extremely difficult to find and they pop up in the most unusual and most delicate of situations. In most cases no one even knows they have been there or that they are there. This is a strategic asset that has the highest value in the defence armoury and we need the best that our money can buy.

    The public have a right to understand the issues at play here, AVM Espeland says, the RUSI is one body whose charter is to keep the public informed of defence matters and I can think of no other more pressing issue than the future of Australia’s Submarine Force. Let’s have a conference, let’s have it in Adelaide and let’s ensure it provides a balanced view of the issues at hand. It is the very least the public expect.

    Republished (by SAGE International) with the kind permission of WGCDR Mark Ryan (Rtd), from the original which appeared in ‘In Business’ Dec. 18, 2014


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    Heroes of the digital age

    August 29th, 2013


    By John Bruni.

    What influences the political landscape of all nations more -human agency or geography?

    Contemporary international relations abound with scholarly works that argue in favour of one over the other, with the ‘other’ acting in a secondary capacity. But the world has proven time and again that our understanding of the international domain is littered with the complex interactions of both – human agency and geography.

    In some cases, the triumph of man can overcome geographic obstacles; in other instances geographic obstacles place clear limitations on human ambitions. What is true in the 21st Century is that international relations are being contested in an increasingly fragile arena, crowded with existing and new players.

    Taken as a whole, planet Earth has never had so many human beings inhabit so many diverse habitats. Human societies have never been so exposed to bewildering technologies which increasingly challenge who we are as a species, a culture, a faith and a community.

    Optimists, and there are many, proclaim that the postmodern society we have evolved into, is on the cusp of revolutionising life as we know it. That we may in coming years merge with the technologies we are developing to become ‘post-human’. In such a world, old forms and customs will have little meaning.

    In fact, so different will be the world of tomorrow that even the most fertile of imaginations may find it difficult to comprehend. This real possibility has also led to great pessimism/cynicism among those traditionalists and conservatives who enjoy the benefits of moderate technologies that do not challenge long-held and long cherished assumptions of ‘being’.

    To a great degree, the loosening up of the contemporary Middle East and the proliferation of new technologies among Middle Eastern people (the ‘Arab Spring’), has allowed the person on the street (individually and collectively) to wield disproportionate power over existing or would-be elites.

    This is an act of human agency in which the development of social media platforms (technology) intersect with market forces (proliferation), breaking down physical barriers and consequently dissolve geography as a constraint on action and effect. By its very nature such technology is greatly destabilising. As time goes on, technology will miniaturise even more so and morph into more complex forms.

    It will be deeper embedded in society. International instability will challenge not just the most intransigent autocrat, the most repressive state apparatus, but every form of governance on Earth, national and multinational alike. The person in the street will be the ultimate arbiter of political legitimacy, using the domain of cyber-space and virtual violence as a means to challenge, and/or to shake off the shackles of ‘the system’ which he/she may feel to be unjust.

    Very different from the barricades-of-old. Face Book and Twitter attacks on political parties and supporting public servants will replace the Molotov Cocktail, assassination and physical ‘dust-ups’ with the police, as the preferred method of making a political point.

    However, there is a quid pro quo. States of all persuasions will also ride the tide of social media and exploit its technology. There will be no government that will not view its own techno-savvy citizens as potential threats. They will more overtly utilise their own hackers, their own cyber-warriors to dilute negative propaganda.

    Just as air power at the beginning of the 20th Century ushered in war in 3 dimensions and created deep strategic instabilities, cyber power at the beginning of the 21st Century is ushering in the potential for war in 4 dimensions. In such a scenario war will be one that not only pits governments against each other in ‘nonkinetic’ struggles for dominance over critical regions and resources, but a war between governments and their people in an infinite state dragnet on the information superhighway.

    This is not the view of a pessimist harking back to the prose of dystopian writers like Wells and Orwell. It is the humble opinion of a realist. Recent history has shown the complexities that we face in integrating new technologies in our lives and how our contemporary governments around the world are struggling to cope.

    Were it not for the release of government information by Wikileaks, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, the general citizenry might still be convinced of the legitimacy of the dealings of those in authority and accept decisions  without questioning.

    In the late 19th Century, while strategists such as Sir Halford Mackinder were talking up the importance of land power to control the geography of the ‘Heartland’ of the Eurasian landmass, and Alfred Thayer Mahan spoke about the importance of sea power to constrain the movement of land power, today in the 21st Century, we have yet to have a scholar of note explaining the implications of cyber power on international strategy. Perhaps this is because the rate at which cyber technology is evolving is too fast to see where it will lead us.

    Suffice to say that with the plethora of social media platforms in the international domain and the growing efficiencies of signal networks, it will make cyber-space more rather than less of an effective facilitator to anti-government agitators, protestors, ideological crusaders of all stripes, terrorists and others who seek a broader audience to influence. Disrupting their information flow will be a difficult, if not impossible task. In fact, it is likely that governments will use the ‘sledgehammer to kill a gnat’ approach, just as they did in the aftermath of 9/11 to stamp out Al Qaeda.

    More nuanced techniques may be possible but they necessitate a closer collusion between those who create the technology and government, turning corporate technology giants into quasi-government agencies. Overarching government power, either through people movements being tracked via smart platform GPS, or in the virtual domain of cyber space, will remove any semblance of privacy and rights of the individual that wars were once fought over.

    And what of the strategic implications? Can major international conflict arise from the exploitation of one country’s ability to manipulate or undermine the cyber domain of another? Ironically, a state that is relatively poor in cyber infrastructure does have some interesting advantages. Military equipment, especially land, sea and air power assets, are in such cases not as dependent on networks that can be made redundant by hacking.

    Where training of military personnel is high and technological dependency low to modest, critical information passed along in slower, manpower intensive ways will be more difficult to intercept and degrade. Quite possibly Russia and China, key states on the Eurasian landmass, have this ability to confound the more technologically wealthy countries of Western Europe, Japan, South Korea and North America.

    Creating a battleground for a protracted defensive conflict favours the technologically poor. Though a technologically wealthy state has the ability to seamlessly overcome geography, to succeed, cyber infrastructure during the course of a war is crucial. An unexpected cyber attack from a country considered technologically limited that degrades some of the primary systems needed to support Western military operations, would be considered a major blow and could alter the course of a conflict.

    The shape of things to come from a military perspective seems to indicate that for every technological ‘shock and awe’ campaign (e.g. Gulf Wars 1991 & 2003; Afghanistan 2001), there will be many more Sarajevos; Bosnias; Somalias; and Afghanistans (2002-), where technology is negated by the baser instincts of players who rely on the terror of the bullet, the bomb and the cudgel to create their set-piece victories.

    Upon reflection, the rise and rise of social media and its multitude of supporting mobile platforms has neutralized international tyranny of distance and in some instances has challenged and removed tyrannies. But, they have also made us vulnerable to our own governments’ paranoia. While those who advocate in favour of this social interaction and argue that it makes life more interesting, colourful and perhaps even more meaningful, selling this ‘dream’ has come at the cost of more stable concepts such as family, community, faith and trust.

    We are weaker as a society, not stronger as a consequence of this. Militarily, embedded networks within networks may supply the average soldier, sailor and airman a super-hero’s volume of data, but all of this is useless when the average human brain has not been augmented to make sense of the constantly incoming information streams. Overcapacity of data does not make a supersoldier.

    Good training does. And this good training includes being able to operate in the field with nothing other than his/her weapon and understanding the importance of the geography he or she is operating in. Human agency has its limits and the old constraints geography imposes on all of us will outlast all the fads we have been sold.

    P.S., at the time of writing a group known as the Syrian Electronic Army (a clandestine group of pro-Assad cyber-warriors) hacked and brought down The New York Times and Twitter through what was called a “malicious external attack”, using an Australian-based IT company located in Melbourne.


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