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AUKUS- what’s below the surface?

By AWPR Acting President, Dr Alison Broinowski

No sooner was the chaotic retreat from Afghanistan over than the world was shocked again by the announcement in mid-September that Australia had agreed with the US and the UK to form an ‘Enhanced Trilateral Security Partnership.’

Few details were given about its purpose, what each of the three parties will contribute to it or get out of it, or the range of its application over time or territory. As ANZUS turned 70, we might have expected a review of the Treaty to include those same questions. Instead, the Prime Minister has given us AUKUS, a ‘forever partnership’, vaguely promising closer alignment of the three parties’ regional policies and actions, and greater integration of our military and defence industries.

The AUKUS mystery is wrapped around an enigma of nuclear-powered submarines and other weaponry. Again, no definite number, no delivery date, no price, no details about what in the project is American and what is British, nor what part Australia will have in it. These matters will take another 18 months to sort out, we are told. While we wait to be defended by these boats and missiles, Australia has narrowed the circle of its friends and added to its critics and enemies.

France was predictably outraged at losing its conventional submarine contract – the payout cost of which has yet to be announced. China’s Global Times was scathing, as were Chinese officials. Now neither French nor Chinese leaders will speak to their Australian counterparts. Germany loses its sub-contract, and along with other EU members sees this old Anglo-sphere clique as a step back in history. Similar reservations were expressed by New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and some in Singapore, all countries which have been pragmatically seeking to accommodate a risen China in their own interests.

The prospect of Australia hosting nuclear-powered and even nuclear-armed US submarines in the decades while our own are built is bad enough. The sugar coating on the submarine enigma promises the RAN long-range strike Tomahawk missiles; air to surface missiles and antiship missiles for the RAAF, and hypersonic missiles at some future time; while the Army gets precision strike guided missiles. Adelaide is offered more government-funded weapons manufacturing enterprises. But the AUKUS partnership delivers huge profits to American and British weapons manufacturers and none to Australia.

As the world struggles to prevent millions dying from the pandemic, Australia has now committed us to new ways of killing more people. To expect that these will deter or defeat China when we and our allies couldn’t defeat the Taliban is absurd. To provoke China with this partnership while we wait for the American weapons to arrive is dangerous. The disaster it invites will be of Australia’s own making.

AUKUS makes Australia more than ever a proxy target which China could attack to send a warning to the US. Malcolm Fraser told us in 2014, the US alliance endangers Australia more than it defends us. Worst of all, this partnership was devised in secret, without consultation with Australian, British, or American political representatives, let alone with any of our neighbours. There has never been a better time to change the war powers which allow governments to bypass parliaments and endanger us all.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Chris Hunter

    A quick scan of the net reveals both British and American armament manufacturers are looking to phase out manned submarines. In twenty or so years from now, all major weapons will likely be robotic, as we have witnessed in recent years with drones and guided missiles. The submarines Australia is looking to purchase will be out of date before they are built, but this is of no interest to the manufacturers who are happy to accommodate a sucker like Australia, willing to pay the earth for such encumbrances.

  2. Michael Flynn

    May I agree with this comment ? Also thanks for the excellent webinar recently when we shared our concerns and the prospects for action. My online reading about the subs tells me there are problems in the US and UK with maintenance and funding so our money will bleed us and help them: not about our building world peace.
    May I offer some action ? When, and if, the ALP wins the next election we can work with local members elected in the House and Senate perhaps with Kim not Zed. A weekend of talk could help. Rudd was Ideas, Hawke was Economy, Albo could try Independent Peaceful Australia. The place could be Canberra with ACT support. The timing to fit in the ALP Defence Posture review report for a wider mob. The date could be after the annual AIIA annual conference at the Hotel Ream. WPR to be high on the agenda perhaps with Marles for it as Wong is not.

  3. David Black

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it the case that a treaty, especially an “Enhanced Trilateral Security Partnership” has to be ratified by the JPCIS, the a parliament of Australia, the UK & Congress to have legal force?

    The reason I’m asking is, there is good evidence to suggest that AUKUS may well have been the quid pro quo for favorable treatment of Morrison’s fraudulent Net Zero by 2050 ‘Plan’. Witness the UK PM Boris Johnson’s public remarks calling it “heroic” and US Speaker, Democrat Nancy Pelosi calling it “leadership”.

    In other words, given all we have so far is an agreement for a ‘study’ for 18 months on submarine defence capability, isn’t the AUKUS announcement, only yet another Morrison announcement?

  4. Thanks for your interest David. I understand that the ‘partnership’ is to become a Treaty next year, in which case it would have to be recommended by the JPCIS and JSCOT, and agreed to by all the Australian States, and then we are stuck with it. But as you suggest, a deal to get this done could well have involved letting the PM off the climate hook. I’d like to see that published! If indeed the submarine capability study period is followed by a feasibility study and then a contract process, I and possibly you will not live to see the result, and Morrison will not be in government. It is this sort of evasion of accountability that AWPR works against.

    If you’d like to write about this to be considered for our Bulletin, please do. It’s very important to have our members’ voices heard.

    Best wishes


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