JOHN MENADUE. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Agents of influence,presumably Chinese are in the news. But the really important agents of influence are organisations linked ‘hip to hip’ to the US and its military/industrial complex. One of these is the Australian Strategic Policy Institute which is an enthusiastic supporter of  almost all things American. It pretends it is an independent think tank. Yesterday Bob Carr commented that ASPI and the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney both express ‘consistently pro American positions’ while receiving funding from ‘US corporations including armaments companies’

See below an earlier slightly edited post of mine concerning ASPI .

This is a repost from September 6, 2016.

In an earlier blog, (Military/Security takeover of Australia’s foreign policy) I described the pervasive influence of the ‘Australia/US Defence and Intelligence Complex’ (AUSDIC).

ASPI, based in Canberra, is dependent on Department of Defence and defence supplier funding. It is an enthusiastic member of that ‘complex’.

On the 15th anniversary of ASPI, Hugh White, formerly Deputy Secretary, Department of Defence, and the Inaugural Executive Director of ASPI, wrote:

‘ASPI’s primary purpose wasn’t to contribute to public debate about defence policy, but to provide an alternative source of policy ideas for government.’

He went on to say that this purpose, to contribute to policy debate has now changed. He added

‘the quality of defence policy [has] slumped and demand from government for independent policy advice largely evaporated. ASPI’s focus inevitably swung around to contribute to public debate not good policy making.’

We have seen several recent and unfortunate forays of ASPI into the public debate. Its Executive Director, Peter Jennings, recently told us incorrectly, that China was responsible for bringing down the Bureau of Statistics website at the time of the recent census; that Chilcot was extremely naïve about the way countries e.g. UK go to war and that the Australian Parliament should not hinder the prerogative of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to take Australia to war e.g. Iraq. Only last weekend in the Sun Herald an ASPI ’expert on Chinese military modernisation’ warned us that the H-6K Chinese bombers based in the Spratly Islands could threaten Australia and we had to consider stepping up our missile defence, with the help of  US Patriot missiles. With a viewpoint and mind set like that he is incapable of considering whether the way we have locked ourselves into the US alliance so fully is in in our best interests. His response was that we had to work even more closely with the US , That would entrap us even further.

ASPI’s pro American and anti Chinese views reflects the attitude of the ‘Australia/US defence intelligence complex’ (AUSDIC). Its views on China have been reflected in the sloppy 2016 Defence White Paper and the debacle over the French submarine involving the purchase of a large conventional submarine at a huge and exorbitant cost and naively supposed to operate in the South China Sea to deter China. With its large fleet of nuclear submarines the Chinese must be smiling at our ineptitude and waste!

Peter Jennings led the External Expert Panel appointed by the Government in 2014 to advise ministers and the Department of Defence on the 2016 Defence White Paper. This would have included advice on the submarine purchase. It never challenged why Australia needed a bigger conventional submarine than any other country and why we should undertake offensive operations in the South China Sea. ASPI never questioned the decision to buy French submarines for $50b rather than German ones for $20b with much larger industry benefits.. Indeed shortly after publishing an article passionately justifying the French acquisition. Peter Jennings wrote another article saying that what we really needed were nuclear submarines with a hint that the French acquisition supported that aspiration.

ASPI has clearly strayed from its original purpose to provide policy advice to the government. It has become an active participant in the political debate. It’s claim to be ‘independent and non-partisan’ has a hollow ring.

Consider how ‘independent’ ASPI really is.


  • Its 2014-15 annual report, tabled in October 2015, reveals that 56% of its $5.9 million funding came from the Department of Defence.
  • 22% of its funding was from sponsors which include corporations heavily involved in supplying military hardware or services across the world– Airbus Group, BAE Systems, Boeing, Jacobs, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, MBDA, Raytheon, SAAB and Thales.
  • 17% of funds were received in ‘partnerships and projects’ which included the Australian Army, Australian Defence College, Defence Materiel, Department of Defence, Department of Immigration and Border Protection.


The board includes:

  • Stephen Loosley, who is also on the Advisory Board of Thales, which describes itself as ‘part of a leading international electronics and systems group which services the defence, aerospace, security and transport markets in Australia and throughout the world’.
  • Kevin Gillespie, former Chief of the Australian Army.
  • Margaret Staib, who served for over three decades in the RAAF.

Senior Staff

The executive group comprises:

  • Peter Jennings, Executive Director and formerly Deputy Secretary of Defence; In 2016 he was awarded the French decoration of Knight in the National Order of Legion d” Honneur
  • Anthony Bergin, Deputy Director and formerly Associate Professor of Politics at ADFA (UNSW);
  • Andrew Davies, Senior Analyst and Director, Research, who spent 12 years in the Department of Defence in capability analysis and intelligence.

The funding, governance and senior staffing of ASPI is heavily dependent on the Defence department, its associates and military suppliers. In governance and funding it is hardly ‘independent and non-partisan’.

As taxpayers we have a right to expect that a body like ASPI to be VERY independent, irrespective of the source of funds.

In 1961 President Eisenhower warned Americans about the power of the military and industrial complex. Later that term was extended to include the ‘Congressional complex’. A large number of members of congress in the US are heavily dependent on defence manufacturers and military bases in their states or electorates. That incestuous complex including ‘think tanks’ has enormous influence in the US but also around the world. The US is scarcely ever at peace. In part that is due to the responsibilities that US Presidents feel have been imposed upon them, but it is also driven by the power of vested defence /military interests throughout the US. War is in the American DNA.

We have the same problem, although on a smaller scale with the same close relationships between ‘think tanks’ like ASPI, the Department of Defence in Australia, the intelligence community and our defence industry. What makes that all the more concerning is that our defence policy is being increasingly contracted out to the US, a ‘dangerous ally’ as Malcolm Fraser warned us.

ASPI provides good analysis, but it is very unlikely to come to conclusions and recommendations that would embarrass or annoy the Department of Defence. defence suppliers, the Australian Government  or the US government. Culturally, it is conditioned to a view of the world dominated by the US. Its mindset makes it difficult for it to adjust to the seismic shift in world power with the rise of China.

Our relationship with the US and China are critical issues. How do we get the balance right between the risks and benefits in this dramatic change in our region and indeed the world?

By its performance it is difficult to see how ASPI is equipped to help us develop a new architecture to advance and manage our relations with China and the US.

More importantly ASPI is not in the habit in recent years of speaking truth to power. It has seriously departed from the original charter that Hugh White explained.

It acts  like a foreign entity.


John Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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8 Responses to JOHN MENADUE. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

  1. Avatar Jim KABLE says:

    Thanks for the re-send. I often think the word Institute should be banned outside of its usage naming a university section – as in the Institute of Languages. I think such usage as that of the IPA and of the ASPI is fraudulent – conferring a respectability and gravitas which they do NOT merit. Hidden donors and all!

  2. Avatar derrida derider says:

    I note the government is canvassing amendments to the Crimes Act to widen the definition of treason, in order they say to to counter foreign subversion of Australian politics.

    By ‘foreign’ the government of course means ‘Chinese’, but ASPI needs to be careful and remember that despite what ASPI clearly believes the courts may consider the US a foreign country.

  3. Avatar HJ Ohff says:

    Pity, John, it seems you are still wedded to the 20 v. 50 billion price tag for 12 future RAN submarines. The tkMS ballpark figure of $20 billion is in 2015 money; it does not include for labour, material and currency variations applicable to an estimated 30-year design and construction period, nor does it allow for government furnished goods and services, including Project Office cost and, of course, Minister Pyne’s ill-considered advisory board. The advertised $50 billion is not a DCNS estimate; this flimsy figure is supposed to be the government’s forward estimate for the delivery in 2050 (?) of 12 diesel electric submarines. The award of the Future Submarine Program (FSP) to DCNS should not be the issue, the determination to procure a >5100t (submerged displacement) diesel-electric submarine class that does not feature air-independent-propulsion (AIP), and is based on old – lead-acid – battery technology is the inexcusable miscalculation by our defence planners. The adage: as small as possible and as big as necessary holds firm for all naval submarine designs, but particularly for diesel-electric boats. DCNS as well as tkMS know this, with the former introducing a new 3000t Diesel-electric submarine concept – SMX®3.0 – at Euronaval 2016. While nearly 50% smaller than the Barracuda Shortfin Block 1A, DCNS retains proven propeller and introduces fuel-cell AIP and modern battery technology. If our Navy holds firm to the Shortfin Block 1A concept it will acquired a Leviathan, an orphan, no other Navy will ever contemplate of acquiring. It will be a submarine class that will be expensive to build, maintain and operate. It will be a class that has no equals, sadly for all the wrong reasons.

  4. Avatar Ian Richards says:

    Today’s furore over foreign government contributions to influence Australian political decisions does not trickle down to foreign firms contributing to government funded advisers – would that it did. How many quasi-government organisations or “independent” advisers currently receive support from foreign sources. Politicians are not unique in their susceptibility to largesse – whatever rules may be applied to politicians or political parties need to be modified to suit the requirement for all Australian Government officials and their organisations to be and be seen to be impartial and not in any sense swayed by foreign munificence. The benefit to a donee, be it individual or organisation, is of little consequence. The influence, particularly in many Defence contracts, may carry the day.

  5. War is in the American DNA? Obama reckoned it was racism!

  6. Avatar Max Bourke says:

    A good piece sort of reminds me, on a very small scale, how the State of Israel, through myriad front organisations has permeated every aspect of the US polity!

  7. Alison Broinowski Alison Broinowski says:

    Can you also inform us – since we pay for a lot of it – who the members of AUSDIC are?

    • Avatar John Menadue says:

      It is a convenient shorthandI i adopted to describe an interlocking range of defence,intelligence, think tanks and others in Australia and the US who dominate foreign and other national policies
      John Menadue

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