Some useful advice to a young person
Aukus strikes at heart of Pacific regionalism

US sets up Australia for a China war

Johnson  Biden and Morrison (Mark Knight)
The Big Three Meet - Johnson Biden and Morrison (Mark Knight, Herald-Sun)

PHILIP FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - The United States of America is a warmonger but prefers to fight its wars in other people’s countries: Moro (Philippines), Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, the list goes on and, as you can read here, it is very, very long.

War and the military industrial complex are inextricably entwined in the US economy and now it seems to be quite advanced in its planning for the next war – another one in our backyard, the Indo-Pacific.

And the planned adversary is China, which is not the tin pot Latin American shambles the US likes to clean up in 24 hours but a sophisticated and committed adversary with military muscle almost on par with Uncle Sam.

War with China, even on a limited basis, will be a big one and lots of people will get hurt.

If Australia had any sense it would be doing everything in its power to convince the USA to tone down its aggressive rhetoric and beef up its diplomacy with China.

Instead, it has been egging on the USA and provoking China with its own particular brand of macho rhetoric. Yell and run.

And now, in another provocative swipe at China, we learn that Australia has been cooking up a secret deal to build nuclear-powered submarines using American and British technologies.

This is while simultaneously inviting the USA to deploy “all types” of military aircraft and personnel on our shores.

No doubt the aircraft will be capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

We’ve also just ordered a bunch of Tomahawk missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

The Tomahawk is a long-range, all-weather, jet-powered, subsonic cruise missile that can be launched from different platforms, including submarines.

This has all been secretly wrapped up in a military alliance with the clumsy acronym AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom, United States).

While it sounds like a particularly unpleasant respiratory condition our foreign minister, Marise Payne, assures us it is “well suited for countering coercion in the Indo-Pacific”.

Peter-Dutton-(New Matilda)
Bèn Dàn (New Matilda)

Defence Minister Peter Dutton is salivating at all these developments and says he wants to “increase US troop rotations and storage of American ordnance and firepower” in Australia.

The Chinese authorities have developed a nickname for Dutton - Bèn Dàn (Dumb Egg).

Dumb Egg’s probably spending the weekend selecting an appropriate commander-in-chief leather jacket, aviator sunglasses, Biden Rolex Datejust wrist watch and Air Force One stubby holders.

To cap it all off Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state says America will “stand with Australia against pressure from China”.

The ‘stand’, of course, will take place13,000 kilometers away from the west coast of ‘murica in our backyard, not his.

It’s unclear whether our ANZUS partner, New Zealand, has been fully consulted. Probably not. New Zealand won’t let nuclear powered vessels into its ports.

There must be great unhappiness in Aotearoa about what’s been going on behind closed doors in Canberra.

It is also highly unlikely that Papua New Guinea or any other Pacific islands nation would have been consulted, although they would have been hosed down from Canberra by now.

The areas in which future China-USA conflicts have been speculated to flare are the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait and the East China Sea, adjacent to Japan and South Korea.

So far nobody expects Papua New Guinea or any other Pacific country to be in the firing line of any future conflict.

WW2 cartoon_of_American_and_Australian_troops_against_a_common_enemy
World War II cartoon of US and Australian troops against a common enemy (State Library of Queensland)

But the calculus may change now that Scott John Morrison has torn up Australia's delicate ‘balanced’ approach to its major strategic partner and its major trading partner in opting to go all the way with Joseph Robinette Biden Jr and Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

Oh, how future historians will reel when they recount the wondrous derring-dos of that lot.

There’s nothing new about any of this, of course. Riding roughshod over Australia has always been in the gift of the USA and doing the same to the Pacific has always been Australia’s preferred option.

So what to make of this unexpected and far reaching development suddenly dumped on us in the middle of a pandemic?

Despite what Blinken says, it has all the hallmarks of a gigantic American scam that our patsies in Canberra have fallen for hook, line and sinker.

The guys and gals in the arms industry must be rubbing their hands with glee.

As for the rest of us I guess it’s down to Bunnings to shop for a prefabricated nuclear shelter.

Comments

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William Dunlop

You said it, Philip - plain dumb. Who?

Philip Fitzpatrick

Australia could have given up on trying to convert the French nuclear submarines to diesel-electric it had on order and simply bought the French nuclear ones off the shelf.

That way it could have avoided becoming enmeshed in the US/UK alliance against the Chinese, remained slighty more independent, saved some money and had the submarines delivered well before 2040.

Instead it fell for the belligerent US rhetoric and lined itself up on their side for what looks like becoming a very rocky cold war.

Plain dumb.

William Dunlop

Chris, Thank you for your clear concise assessment of the situation as it clearly is. Slantie

Chris Overland

I am struggling to see how the acquisition of American nuclear submarines necessarily binds us to its foreign policy let alone fighting a war for or with it.

If the mere acquisition of US made hardware and very secret and sophisticated technology did that, then surely buying 75 F35 fighters has long since locked us into that role?

Similarly, I struggle with the idea that buying a genuinely potent weapon as a means of defence is actually a provocation.

This notion runs utterly contrary to the lessons of history, where the strong have always dominated the weak.

While I agree with 'The Age' that Morrison is a person who lacks much insight or foresight or even good judgement, this clearly has not been his decision alone.

Other, much more knowledgeable and hard headed operators will have looked at this decision with clear eyes, completely unconcerned about domestic political considerations.

They have made a judgement that the only viable option for the future, other than accepting a role as China's humble supplicant, is to create a defence force capable of inflicting real damage upon any aggressive power and to closely align the country's foreign policy with that of the world's greatest liberal democracies.

This is not a risk free strategy by any measure but there is no reasonable prospect that Australia could play a role as a neutral 'honest broker' between competing powers in this region. It lacks the economic, political and military heft to do this.

I have a great admiration for China, its history and its culture. Its people are incredibly enterprising and its achievements over the last 30 years or so are nothing short of breath taking.

It will deservedly resume its historic place as one the world's great powers after what it regards as 'a century of humiliation' at the hands of European imperial powers.

But it is led by what I regard as the 'usual suspects' who collectively form the anti-democratic, doctrinaire, authoritarian and xenophobic Chinese Communist Party.

The CCP is led by a self appointed 'President for Life', whose pearls of wisdom are regarded as sacrosanct and who cannot tolerate disobedience in any form.

Let us all get real here: there will be no reasoning with the CCP over what constitutes acceptable conduct in international affairs, any more than there was with Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin or any other of the long and terrible list of demagogues stretching back in human history.

This is the context within which the decision about submarines was taken, not the electoral cycle.

This decision is and will be of no great importance in the grand scheme of things and should not be invested with more significance than it deserves.

It is easy to foresee vastly more important sources of risk in our region than a very long term plan to acquire 8 submarines.

In my judgement, climate change can and will upset and perhaps overturn much of today's world order long before Australia's first nuclear submarine slides into the water.

The struggle for survival or ascendancy in the face of the now inevitable severe and challenging consequences of climate change seem to me to be vastly more likely to trigger open warfare than adding 8 new submarines to the many hundreds already in operation.

Arthur Williams

Was it Mao Zedong who said, “We can lose 10 million military; can America?”

AUKUS - Is this a species of the long thought extinct great Auk but now found in eastern USA?

Philip Fitzpatrick

The editorial in this weekend’s ‘The Saturday Paper’ is interesting.

It quotes Hugh White, the former deputy-secretary of the Department of Defence, who wrote Australia’s Defence White Paper in 2000.

In an article elsewhere, White suggests that conventional submarines are perfectly suited if Australia is only interested in defending itself, whereas nuclear-powered submarines are perfectly suited to attacking another country.

EDITORIAL: LOSING TO WIN

By Erik Jensen, Editor-in-Chief

Commentators are already calling it a chance for Scott Morrison to reframe his leadership.

‘The Age’ says the decision to buy nuclear-powered submarines from the United States or Britain “elevates Scott Morrison from harried, strife-beset leader … to the position of Prime Minister taking charge of his nation’s defence in an emerging regional Cold War”.

Nothing real is reframed, however. Morrison is the same flat-footed leader, governing only in his self-interest.

Decades of subtle diplomacy, balancing the interests of China and the US, have been trampled by a man whose eyes have never lifted further than the next election.

Morrison’s decision to enter a trilateral pact built around nuclear hardware is a horrifying miscalculation.

It places Australia on the front line of any future war with China. It drags us into a conflict that very likely will not serve our interests.

And it says very clearly, between now and then; we have chosen America.

Whatever leverage Australia might have had between the two powers is gone.

Morrison will agree to pay billions getting rid of it, for a submarine fleet that will be America’s and not ours.

On Thursday morning he looked like Jack coming home with his magic beans and no cow, only he lacks the wit and courage to climb any beanstalks or kill any giants.

In May this year, Hugh White wrote a front-page story for ‘The Saturday Paper’.

The former deputy-secretary of the Department of Defence, who wrote Australia’s Defence White Paper in 2000, warned that in its approach to China the Morrison government seemed “to have no idea how serious, and dangerous, our situation has become, and has no viable plan to fix it”.

White wrote that Morrison seemed to have no concept of the cost and risks involved in the escalating conflict with China. He warned that any war would place us in the greatest conflict since World War II.

“It would be a war the US and its allies would have no clear chance of winning,” White wrote.

“Indeed, it is not even clear what winning a war with a country such as China means. And it would very likely become a nuclear war.”

This week has made that likelihood even greater. Morrison says he remains committed to non-proliferation, but he is now flirting with nuclear capabilities.

Others will, too. Thursday’s grim, clumsy announcement will likely be remembered as the pivot that drew the region into future nuclear conflict.

Joe Biden may not have remembered Morrison’s name, but war histories will be forced to. He will be remembered as a smirking opportunist, eager to sign deals he did not understand, untroubled by the future because he was unable to comprehend it.

Labor, if it had any courage, would campaign to tear up this deal. It would refuse to take the country to war in exchange for a photo opportunity.

It would continue a policy of balance, weighing relations between the two powers and governing in the interests of the country.

Morrison has given up on that route. The work it requires is beyond him. He has a handful of magic beans and an election to win.

Harry Topham

I guess the elephant in the room will be China's aspirations for a more permanent interest in Antarctica as the Antarctic Treaty is due for review this year.

Australia has allowed China access to some of its territories in Antarctica but more importantly has not carried out any surveys or checks to ascertain what China has been doing down south. Why not, I ask?

Lindsay F bond

Who drew the boundaries, who wrote the rules, who colonised ports of commerce, who managed expertise at close quarters, who poked on peninsular point?

Writers augur well, as well they might
oiled on themes that swell up insight
oi-ing support thrice
on hazards and gripe
welling AUKUS, while eyeing dimmed light.

But wait, is there more?

Did they chew over all insinuations and sound bites? For instance, "Orcus was a Roman god of the netherworld..."
and then the selling point is a submarine. Come on....

See: https://seaworld.org/animals/all-about/killer-whale/classification/

William Dunlop

As a hands-on transport and earthmoving equipment manager for many years, for me the buzzword was preventive maintenance of a fleet ranging from D9 bulldozers to the humble Honda 90 motorcycle.

I look upon the acquisition of nuclear powered submarines as part of our nation's preventive maintenance against war.

The first marine engine I was involved in was a 1912 Gleniffer single cylinder, glow plug ignition made in Glasgow, all of 6 horsepower. It was acquired by me in 1973 in Donegall, Ireland, for six pounds sterling.

I wrangled it into the passenger seat of my Austin Healey, fitted the tonneau cover and got it through the Buncrana customs check without paying duty.

This engine was resurrected by Desmond O'Neill and fitted into Rab McCurdys 27-foot fishing boat as an aid project.

NB, the engine was splash lubricated.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I'm not suggesting that there will be a major war with China, that's too horrific to contemplate. At worst there may be some low level skirmishes.

What I'm suggesting and what alarms me is that the USA and UK have chosen where the conflict(s) will take place.

William Dunlop

No doubt the bomb shelters will be crappy and have 'Made in China' stamped on them.

That's not inferring that there's anything crappy about the Chinese war machine.

The Chinese have nuclear powered vessels carrying nuclear warheads.

The French subs were to be modified nuclear powered converted to diesel powered. Best described as a total abortion.

A large hole into which enormous amounts of our dollars have been poured. Where does the buck stop on this fiasco? Politicians? Military?

I don't appear to see any military leader of General Sir John Monash's capabilities waiting on the sidelines.

But there's no shortage of pollies of the Billy Hughes ilk.

Ed Brumby

And how well did it go in Korea, Vietnam and, more recently, Iraq and Afghanistan?

Chris Overland

I think that Phil has invested the decision to buy nuclear submarines with more significance than it deserves, at least as far as the prospect of war is concerned.

As I have written before, the 'dance of death' between a resurgent and increasingly nationalistic and belligerent China and the previously dominant USA began sometime ago, following the same steps that history says lead inexorably to war.

The decision to buy nuclear submarines probably should have been taken a long time ago. It is a superior technology to diesel electric engines, with a number of major strategic and tactical advantages compared to our current submarines.

The Defence Minister, Peter Dutton, is evidently a hard headed, pragmatic and determined man, perfectly capable of making tough decisions.

In this case he has simply persuaded the government to do the obvious thing to increase Australia's war fighting potential to a higher level in the face of repeated threats and calculated attacks on our trading relationship from Xi Zinping's 'wolf warrior' diplomats.

China is not a benign power. It is no more or less self interested than any other authoritarian power. It has unhesitatingly coerced, imprisoned or murdered its own citizens to suppress any hint of democratic tendencies.

More recently, it has laid claim to seas and territories well outside recognised international boundaries. It has sanctioned the use of force to preserve what it sees as its vital interests. In short, it is just another rising imperial power, with all the attendant ambitions and behaviours.

The USA, while subject to very serious internal divisions, remains an immensely powerful nation. It will not readily surrender its power and influence. That is something all Americans can and will agree upon no matter how divided they may be on other matters.

Thus the world is entering a new phase of super power competition and, potentially at least, open conflict.

Whether it likes it or not, Australia has a choice to make. It cannot be neutral in this new world. The blunt truth is that our basic democratic values and outlook make it impossible to align with China.

The decision to buy nuclear submarines and equip them with weapons that pose a serious threat to a hostile force is a pragmatic recognition of this fact.

Still, despite the current sound and fury, war is not inevitable. There is always time to draw back from the brink if there is the will to do so.

The real problem is that grievous errors in judgement may be made, not to someone makes a conscious decision to go to war.

So, the submarines are just another step in the dance that has been a feature of human existence since time immemorial.

We humans are programmed for war. We are a profoundly aggressive species, determined to defend and protect what we regard as our own, even unto death. It is what has made us the world's pre-eminent predator. It is the source of our many triumphs and also of our many tragedies.

We can only hope that our leaders are aware of this awful history and exercise restraint. The consequences of a failure to do so are, as Phil has pointed out, likely to be truly catastrophic.

PNG's role in this unfolding drama is to be an innocent bystander and, perhaps, a helpless victim. Large scale industrial warfare has been inflicted upon PNG before and may yet occur again, so it too has choices to make, none of them ideal but some worse than others.

I wish them luck.

Bernard Corden

"Wherever there is conflict in the world you can rely on the US to turn up late and bomb the crap out of neighbouring countries" - PJ O'Rourke

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