Australian news, and some related international items

Nuclear weapons for Australia? – at what cost?

Does Australia need a nuclear arsenal? And what would be the cost? ABC 24 Oct 18 RN By Joey Watson for Late Night Live  Nestled in the native bushland of Jervis Bay on the New South Wales south coast are the concrete footings of a nuclear power station that was never built.The construction, which began during John Gorton’s brief prime ministership in the late 1960s, was to be Australia’s first foray into nuclear energy generation.

The reactor would have been able to generate plutonium which, under the auspices of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, could be used to manufacture nuclear weapons.

But the project did not survive an abrupt change of leadership and Australia ended up riding out the remainder of the Cold War as a non-nuclear player.

Five decades later the nuclear anxieties which coloured Mr Gorton’s foreign policy outlook are creeping their way back into international relations.

US President Donald Trump has announced that he will pull the US from the Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, as both countries expand their nuclear arsenals.

India is locked in a nuclear tit-for-tat with neighbouring Pakistan, while China has developed nuclear weapons capable of reaching anywhere in the US.

Historically Australia has sought shelter under the US ‘nuclear umbrella’, but is it time for that to change?

In a recent essay, Dr Stephan Fruhling, the Associate Dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific at the ANU, contemplated the “unthinkable option”, and suggested that a nuclear-armed Australia is more likely than ever before.

Fortress Australia

According to Dr Fruhling, Australia’s continuous coastline makes it uniquely positioned to ‘spike the moat’ with tactical, short-range nuclear weapons that could be used against air and maritime forces.

“In air and naval battle on the high seas, nukes can now be employed without significant risk of collateral damage, much like conventional war heads,” he told Late Night Live.

“Australia could establish a maritime exclusion zone in wartime, to increase the military risk for any country planning a major attack against the continent.”

But what would be the cost?

The strategic benefits of any nuclear capability would have to be balanced against the possible implications of breaking out of the US nuclear umbrella.

Australia’s access to US intelligence, technology, and weapons systems may be compromised if it chose to take on a defence strategy that was less reliant on the US.

“Before investing in a nuclear program I think we would have to make a genuine attempt at trying to draw closer to the United States and its nuclear arsenal,” Dr Fruhling said.

If Australia chooses to remain under the US nuclear umbrella, Indonesia presents a unique case in which American and Australian interests may not intersect.

Indonesia is also a US ally, and if it decided to begin its own nuclear program, the implications for the US security guarantee for Australia are not clear.

“Should Indonesia acquire nuclear weapons, relying on US deterrence against a nuclear attack would require a leap of faith about the alignment of Australian and US interests,” Dr Fruhling said..

An Australian nuclear program could lead to Indonesia following suit.

“Indonesia has regional leadership ambitions, and a strong sense of independence and will, in coming years, tower over Australia economically as well as in population terms,” Dr Fruhling said.

“Australian acquisition of nuclear weapons would strengthen Indonesia’s reasons to reciprocate, for status as well as security.”

In the meantime, however, Australia’s non-nuclear status is important in discouraging Indonesia and other regional players from going down the nuclear path……..

October 25, 2018 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, weapons and war

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