Australian news, and some related international items

A counterview to Hugh White’s book in favour of nuclear weapons for Australia

Australia, nuclear weapons and America’s umbrella business  The Strategist , 9 Jul 2019, Rod Lyon  Hugh White’s new book, How to defend Australia, has stirred up a hornet’s nest on the topic of potential nuclear proliferation. In one sense, that’s a surprise, since anyone who’s read the relevant chapter knows that it’s book-ended by carefully crafted paragraphs which state explicitly that White ‘neither predicts nor advocates’ Australia’s development of an indigenous nuclear arsenal.

But in between those paragraphs White explores the history of Australian interest in a national nuclear weapons program, underlines the dwindling credibility of US nuclear assurances to allies, canvasses a possible nuclear doctrine for Australia, and recommends a force structure—more submarines—suitable to what he sees as our new straitened strategic circumstances. If he’s not advocating a nuclear arsenal, why is he telling us so much about what it ought to look like?

Let’s start with the possibility of Australian nuclear proliferation up front. As I wrote recently for a chapter in After American primacy, there are five barriers to Australian proliferation: ideational, political, diplomatic, technological and strategic. Briefly, crossing the nuclear Rubicon would require:

  • Australians to think differently about nuclear weapons—as direct contributors to our defence rather than as abstract contributors to global stability
  • a bipartisan political consensus to support proliferation, during both development and deployment of a nuclear arsenal
  • a shift in Australia’s diplomatic footprint, to build a case for our leaving the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and abrogating the Treaty of Rarotonga, while still being able to retail a coherent story of arms control and nuclear order
  • serious investment in the technologies and skill-sets required to construct and deploy, safely and securely, both nuclear warheads and appropriate delivery vehicles
  • and a strategy which gives meaning to our arsenal and an explanation of our thinking to our neighbours and our major ally.
………  he [White] argues in favour of a ‘minimum deterrence’ nuclear posture for Australia, citing the British and French programs approvingly. …….
But ‘minimum deterrence’ is a slippery term—Chinese, Indian and Pakistani declaratory policies have all, at one time or another, applied it to their own programs.  …….
………. such a future world [Australia with nuclear weapons] is less attractive than the one we live in now. Asia typically hasn’t put a high priority on nuclear weapons, which tend to sit in the strategic background rather than the foreground. A sudden cascade of nuclear proliferation would make for a more fraught and difficult region—which is one good reason we ought to be working harder to keep the US engaged in Asia and its umbrella business healthy.

July 11, 2019 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, weapons and war

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