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AUKUS indicates Australia has opted for war


NOOSA – That unpleasant smell in the air is the residuum of the most recent attempt to incinerate Australian sovereignty.

Papua New Guinea’s generous but often misguided southern friend has effectively turned its back on the wiser foreign policies of states like Indonesia, New Zealand and Singapore.

Australia has succumbed to America’s nervous haste to ‘ring-fence’ China in the hope this will protect the USA’s position as the world’s only great power.

Australia has cuddled even closer to the USA in an embrace that must certainly have alarmed its regional neighbours just as it worries many Australians.

It has joined the American project to temper China’s ambitions, even by going to war if it sees fit.

The AUKUS initiative has let loose many issues that we should all be concerned about.

So we come to my goal here.

Pretty much every day in recent weeks, John Menadue’s current affairs blog, Pearls & Irritations, has published articles about the AUKUS-China quandary (and looming quagmire) by well-credentialled Australians, most of them at the progressive end of the political spectrum.

These articles, most of real quality, have delivered many thousands of words on the foolishness - created by the Morrison government and perpetuated by that of Albanese – of making China our enemy, the USA our guru-guardian and AUKUS our supposed shield.

The ineptitude of Australia’s politicians in getting us into this mess needs to be better understood, and what follows are short extracts from 20 of the Pearls & Irritations commentaries, together with a link to the complete article.

Bronwyn Kelly: Australia: can we avoid a future that is truly frightening?


The last few months, culminating in the announcement about the AUKUS agreement and the release of the 2023 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) synthesis report, have probably crystallised for many Australians a realisation that they are headed towards a future that is truly frightening. Australia along with the rest of the world is facing the prospect of self-harm or even self-annihilation…. But how did it come to this? How did we get into this mess in the first place?

Daryl Guppy: Australia’s paper seahorse

AUKUS partners and supporters are trapped in their own historical bubble of colonial longing. Many of these Western and Japanese policymakers talk and listen to only those who already agree with AUKUS partners and their view of the world…. The AUKUS announcement is evidence of a very dangerous approach to foreign policy formulation and engagement. Showing the influence of military, rather than diplomatic, thinking, the announcement is a full-frontal attack on the regional architecture of trade discussions.

Mike Scrafton: Will Australia always follow the innocent nation into war?

Two great powers with enormously destructive capabilities are contending in the Asia Pacific. Either could take the misstep in war….  The American sense of righteousness and mission often generates a pious intransigence and inflexibility that is overlooked in geopolitical discourse. Unquestioning commitment to an ally not fully understood doesn’t make for good policy….

There is a desperation in the need to establish the rightness of America’s world leadership. There is a flavour of irrationality in its hostility to non-democratic regimes. There’s blindness in America’s insistence that its way is the only way for the whole world.

Richard Tanter: AUKUS – ‘These are the horrors’

[From transcript of a speech at the Anti-AUKUS Rally, Melbourne, 18 March 2023]

These are horrors. This [AUKUS] moves us towards what I think is an almost irrevocable position of enmity as far as the Chinese are concerned. Principally because the only rational strategic role for those submarines is to contribute, potentially, to an American existential threat to China. Even if we stop tomorrow, is China going to forget that? Why should they? We’ve revealed our hand. We have a Minister for Defence who is effectively the minister for Washington, and this is where we have come to.

Mary Kostakidis: Turning Damocles’ Sword against the people

In an unprecedented way, Australia’s government has now risked both the country’s prosperity and safety in the service of a foreign power, with the setting in stone of AUKUS by a Labor government…. Labor has now clarified the justification for the choice of submarines – it has shifted from defending Australia (which these vessels cannot do) to a ‘forward defence policy’ – in other words, a policy of aggression not defence. We will be prowling the coast of China as a fully integrated part of the US war machine in an escalation of an already belligerent posture, a more intense poking in the eye for China.

Adam Hughes Henry: The gatekeepers have spoken

Since 1901, the often-self-appointed gatekeepers of Australia’s defence and diplomacy have had the greatest difficulty with the idea of accountability….  The gatekeepers do not need approval from the public for the AUKUS deal, or for the procurement of nuclear-powered submarines….  The usual suspects in our mainstream media praise the AUKUS deal and have already begun sounding the trumpets of war…. To secure our precious US alliance, we make ourselves a military adversary to our largest trading partner, China.

Ainslie Barton: ASPI takes exception to media scrutiny

Even though the hot war may not have yet started the fog created by ASPI [the Australian Strategic Policy Institute] abounds. [Peter] Jennings is synonymous with ASPI. Outside of Canberra he was a little-known Liberal ministerial adviser and a Defence Department policy wonk. It wasn’t until he took up the [executive director’s] role at ASPI that he became the go to China hawk for mainstream media. Despite ASPI’s constant claim of independence, [Jennings’ successor] Justin Bassi walked right out of the office of Liberal Cabinet Minister Marise Payne into ASPI’s office, just a few blocks from Parliament House.

Mike Lyons: Anzus, shared values and sovereignty: not what it seems

One ‘expert’, Peter Jennings, goes so far as to say, “I want us to think about what we can do which gives us a capacity …  to be able to sink the Chinese Navy and to bring down their aircraft?” That is not just anti-China bias, it is sheer lunacy….  However, none of Australia’s political leaders, not Albanese nor Marles nor Wong, has said a word to discredit this ghastly nonsense. Instead, our Prime Minister, talking of AUKUS, described this as “the single biggest leap in our defence capability in our history”….  The AFR reports Marles as saying, “The true intent of this capability is to provide for the stability and for the peace of our region”…. Now, we know the truth. Nukes are about a safer and more secure world. The clowns have taken charge!

Sandi Keane: The Road to War: latest film by David Bradbury

As international tensions rise to a new level, with the Ukraine war passing its first anniversary and the Albanese Government set to announce its commitment of hundreds of billions of dollars to new weaponry, nuclear propelled subs, stealth bombers etc, The Road to War brings into sharp focus why it is not in Australia’s best interests to be dragged into an American-led war with China…. 

“I was driven to make this film because of the urgency of the situation. I fear we will be sucked into a nuclear war with China and/or Russia from which we will never recover, were some of us to survive the first salvo of nuclear warheads,” says the twice Oscar-nominated filmmaker.

Geoff Raby: China’s big foreign policy plays leave Australia in the cold

With the QUAD and AUKUS, complementing ANZUS and the Five Eyes as the predominant architecture of Australia’s foreign and security policies, Australia has now firmly embedded itself in the US-led order. It has ceded both foreign policy and defence independence. In these circumstances, China can be expected to redouble its efforts to meet its energy and resource needs from within its own bounded order at the expense of Australia.

Alison Broinowski: Out of touch, out of date, or out of their minds?

The bipartisanship for which [former Prime Minister] Keating assailed Ministers Wong and Marles has produced monochrome foreign and defence policy in Australia, more befitting a dictatorship than a democracy. Those who don’t conform to it are scapegoated, marginalised, and deplatformed….

Labor has abandoned what was left of any of the ideals it put forward in the ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ report of 2012. Instead, we have joined the remaining parts of our national anatomy (shoulder to shoulder, joined at the hip, etc.) to the US and UK. American bases in Australia will remain into the limitless future….So will AUKUS, unless Hugh White is right and they scrap it as useless.

Peter Cronau: Majority oppose US war on China

A majority of Australians want Australia to adopt a policy of neutrality when it comes to considering a US war against China, according to the latest polling by the Lowy Institute think tank. The poll, conducted in 2022, found 51% of Australians said they’d prefer Australia to remain ‘neutral’ in any US military conflict with China over Taiwan, down from 57% in 2020.

David Legge: Stop preparing to participate in a US war against China

Dear Labor MPs, I write to convey my deep disappointment in the Labor Government, of which you are part, specifically in relation to the AUKUS submarine deal but more generally in relation to military strategy and foreign policy….  

The looming threat of global warming is an existential threat to Australia and the rest of the world but apparently not as worrying to your government as the ‘threat’ posed by China to the rules based order and to liberal democracy….  The AUKUS deal [was] designed to wedge the Labor Government in advance of the 2022 elections. Your government has completely surrendered….

Kim Carr: The Federal Labor Caucus did not endorse AUKUS

The $368 billion AUKUS deal raises many more questions than we have had answered to date. The Labor Government has followed the Morrison Government as if the plan unveiled by Mr Morrison was a fait accompli. The Federal Labor Caucus did not endorse the deal – it simply noted it. This is to be the biggest procurement in Australian history. It is only fitting that it is properly analysed and debated. There are profound consequences for the people of this country if we get this project wrong.

Alex Lo: A tale of two octogenarian politicians

Keating’s argument is that Australia could use US$368 billion to buy 40-plus conventional submarines perfectly capable of defending the country – and all built by the middle of the next decade – rather than eight nuclear-powered subs, the first one of which won’t be ready until 2040, and which will only be good for an attack on China alongside the US. And, he asked, why does Australia need the AUKUS force projection – including hosting UK and US submarines – to protect regional trade routes when China is already its willing and largest trading partner?

Judy Hemming: American Fascism: A prior question to the AUKUS arrangements

[There is a] growing body of evidence, analysis and commentary since (say) 9/11 on the drift to a specifically American form of fascism is unavoidable….  Crucially, those producing these accounts, and from within the United States, are drawn from academia, the critical media, public intellectuals, and the traditional conservative wing of US political parties, including the Republican Party. All display an awareness of conditions in the US which, unaddressed, make the emergence of a distinctly American fascism almost inevitable.

While this is a tragedy for the US, it is surely unacceptable for the Australian government to surrender even more of its sovereignty to such a power. Equally, assuming that the AUKUS arrangements are based on the advice being provided by the relevant government agencies and think tanks, the conclusion is that they ought, collectively, to be charged with dereliction of duty.

David Armstrong: Plea for AUKUS to become JAUKUS

As a close US ally and member of the Quad security grouping, Japan could be expected to look favourably on AUKUS. And an editorial in the Japan Times newspaper has backed the pact, saying the US and its allies need extra capabilities to maintain regional peace and stability…. But, it says, one criticism of AUKUS deserves attention – that it represents the reassertion of the Anglosphere.

“There is something anomalous about an alliance of just those three nations in this part of the world. Australia, the US and the UK should consider taking on other partners, to share the fruits of the pact and to soften its image. AUKUS can be a bulwark of regional security but it will be even more effective with additional partner. Japan among them” [Japan Times editorial]

Barry Jones: China and the AUKUS submarine deal: unanswered questions

Nobody seems to have asked these fundamental questions about 2045 and answers would be useful. Will submarines still be relevant in 2045 or will they have been made obsolete by developments in aviation, missiles and remote sensing? Will China be Australia’s largest market in 2045? Will climate change make all our projections irrelevant? What regime will be ruling in China in 2045? Xi Jinping would be 92 by then and it is possible that he could still be President. If he struck against Taiwan it would presumably have been long before 2045, to avoid the risk of engaging with eight Australian submarines.

Richard Broinowski: How safe are nuclear powered submarines?

What guarantees can the Australian Navy extract from the United States Navy that the three to five pre-owned US Virginias we are to get have never had nuclear-accidents or radiation leaks? For that matter how many years of the 30-year life of the reactors will have already been expended when we get the boats? Will discounts be made to the eye-watering costs of the vessels?

Frances Letters: No. Let’s give friendliness a try

A squadron of fierce red rats is swarming down the map from a blood-red China towards Australia! Eager scarlet claws scrabble at our coastline; greedy little rat-faces snarl with the excitement of it all. This was the sinister political poster that in the 1950s menaced us from walls in my hometown of Armidale––and presumably all around the country. The Yellow Peril as threatening rodent manifestation….

Now, apparently triggered by the same old memory, a black squadron of warplanes has erupted from the sinister red map of China. With spooky determination they are heading for Australia. In recent decades, most of us believed things had changed radically since the bad old days. For years the ‘red rats’ from that ferocious tidal swarm have been busy constructing their cities with our steel, cheerfully munching on our cereals, meat and dairy products, joyfully quaffing our wine. And they have paid us extremely well for these privileges.


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Chips Mackellar

What strikes me as being weird is assuming we need nuclear submarines. And why would we build any in Australia?

How many F18s did we build here? How many C5 Galaxies, C17 Globemasters? None I believe. I understand we bought them ready made.

Imagine if we tried to build a Globemaster from scratch. Then imagine if we tried to build a nuclear submarine from scratch.

Imagine the technical problems, cost overruns and all that.

On the other hand the US Navy has a well established continuous submarine building program.

According to Wikipedia, it has 50 nuclear submarines. It builds them at the rate of two a year. Its target is a fleet of 60, each in service for 30 years.

So at the rate of two new subs a year, it maintains that target by retiring two of its oldest subs each year, each having served for 30 years.

So the US Navy has a continuous sub building program, building and retiring two a year. All this makes sense.

But it makes no sense for us to build parts of three nuclear subs and then stop building. What would happen to our sub building work force?

Surely the answer lies in the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) we have with the US, whereby one or more of their 60 subs could patrol our waters or our northern approaches as required, either with a mixed US-RAN crew, or with our own Royal Australian Navy crew.

Surely this makes more sense.

Philip Fitzpatrick

As Paul Keating suggests the principal objection to acquiring the submarines is that they are not fit for purpose.

They are a long range offensive weapon that we don't need unless we plan to attack another nation.

Cheaper, non-nuclear conventional submarines are what we need to defend Australia.

The outrageous cost, infrastructure implications, operating difficulties and alternative systems are secondary considerations.

Chris Overland

There continues to be a great deal of hyperventilating about the AUKUS decision, with far too many people drawing the wrong conclusions about its effect.

First, it is, in many respects, merely a new expression of what is a long standing relationship between the US, UK and Australia. It does not represent a tectonic shift in that relationship.

Second, despite all assertions to the contrary, it does not necessarily bind us more strongly to the interests of the USA. There has been a strong tie for a very long time and it remains essentially unchanged.

Third, nuclear submarines are, at the end of the day, just another weapons system, albeit a very expensive one.

The principal objections to acquiring this system relate to things like the colossal cost involved, the infrastructure implications, the inherent difficulties in operating and maintaining such systems and, most importantly, whether there are much better and cheaper options available such as expanding our air force, acquiring sophisticated long range defensive missile systems and so forth.

Fourth, rhetoric about the USA being a 'fascist' state is, putting it mildly, overblown. There certainly are authoritarian elements in US society, especially within the Republican Party, but it is still a democracy and still a formidable proponent and supporter of democratic ideals (however flawed its decision making has been at times).

Fifth, war with China is not certain. The conditions under which this must inevitably occur do not yet exist although the signs are ominous.

China's ambitions in relation to Taiwan are well understood but the willingness and ability of the US and its allies to go to war over this matter remain unclear.

A more likely outcome is the imposition of severe economic sanctions on China as has been the case with Russia.

Sixth, it has to be said that successive Australian governments have been really bad at explaining the strategic thinking lying behind the AUKUS decision.

It is possible that this is because it has actually been a Morrison inspired 'thought bubble' that has suddenly turned into a hideous foreign policy problem, where backing out is judged worse than staying in. Who really knows?

The opponents of AUKUS would be best served by zeroing in on the real problems and challenges it poses rather than indulging in flights of rhetorical fancy about the supposed stupidity or evil underlying the arrangement.

Also, it would be good to see some realistic alternative policy options proposed for how Australia can sensibly reorient its diplomatic and defence posture in what is clearly becoming a great power contest for influence in the Asia Pacific region.

Trying to sit here fat, dumb and happy hoping that an autocratic and anti-democratic China will miraculously abandon its now very obvious ambition to become the world's dominant economic and military power is not one of them.

Paul Oates

Spot on Phil. Corporate greed together with complacent political leaders allowed our manufacturing base to be relocated overseas.

Unfortunately, that was aided and abetted by misled campaigns for greater benefits than our industry could logically provide when producing cheaper consumer goods for a fickle and apathetic public who didn't care at the time where their purchases were made since it didn't affect them personally.

Now, it all comes back to bite us in the bum.

No political leader these days seems to have the three G's necessary to make the hard decisions: 'Guts, Gumption and Get up and Go'.

We only have to look at the US to see where we are heading unless someone steers us back on track.

William Dunlop

Absolutely magnificent article, Keith. Fascism American style! You can bet on it.

Particularly to be accelerated if that nutter Trump becomes El Presidente again.

Well may we heed the words of wisdom from Paul Keating.

Bernard Corden

"Americans may have no identity, but they do have wonderful teeth." - Jean Baudrillard

Philip Fitzpatrick

The irony here is that America, Australia and many other Western nations actually helped create the economic and now military miracle that is China by shifting our various manufacturing bases there because of the cheap labour involved.

Through corporate greed we gutted their own manufacturing bases and created massive urban decline and unemployment and inequality in our own countries.

So now we want to waste squillions on submarines to combat a ghost threat while the ignoring the plight of the people we crippled in our own country.

It seems to me that we voted out a very bad LNP government and replaced it with a slightly less bad Labor government.

That is, we have two major parties not worth voting for in the next election.

What happens then will be fascinating.

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